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The GEM Debate: Do Nice Girls Finish Last?

A long, LONG time ago, I worked at an unnamed TV station as part of a local news anchor team.

Everyone on the team was warm and inviting to me, the still-wet-behind-the-ears newcomer. Well, almost everyone. I won’t say who he is; not important really but I’ll never forget my first encounter with one co-worker in particular.

Standing in the mirror on my first day, I was applying pancake make-up with unsteady hands when he walked over. He said hi and introduced himself but it’s what came out of his mouth next that told me everything I needed to know. He leaned in and barely above a whisper, said to me, “These people here? They like me a lot. If you want to have a long and successful career here, you’ll learn to like me a lot too.”  I laughed nervously because surely he was joking, right? No. Those people he spoke of, the ones who signed the paychecks? They did like him a lot and paid him a boatload of cash too.

I could never figure out why but now a new study may shed light on that. According to the story in the Wall Street Journal people who are more disagreeable at work, actually earn more than their team-player counterparts.  Researchers surmise that, at least with regard to men, the more agreeable ones are seen as less masculine. I have my own theory. I think managers just don’t want to have to deal with the workers they know are going to give them the push-back. So they minimize their dealings with the prickly people and heap piles of work on the nice guys. In other words, they reward bad behavior.

Here’s why this burns me up about this. From the very first play date, we tell our kids to “be nice. We teach them to share and consider each other’s feelings and we REALLY lay it on thick for our girls; no one wants to play/work with a bitch (and yes, you know damn well that’s what they call an assertive woman who knows what she wants and goes out and gets it!). All this time we thought we were preparing our kids for life when what we should have been telling them was to take toys from others, stomp their feet and scream “NO!” as loud as possible. Because apparently that’s how you make a ton of money.

Of course, I’m joking. I’m still going to teach my kids that nice guys may not make as much money, they still finish first in the game of life. But I’ll underscore a lesson I learned early in my career; that is sometimes people take kindness for weakness. Don’t let them push you around and learn how to stand up for yourself even if it means they walk away muttering, under their breath, what a bitch you are.

I’m curious about what you think. How do you feel about this study? Do you believe it’s true? And what will you tell your kids about being nice at school and work? Let me hear ya!


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