How To Make The System Work For Women By Marja Norris

How To Make The System Work For Women

Us empowered women work in a male-dominated industry. So many of us have had those moments when we sit down ask our selves, “Does anyone know how to make the system work for women?” Our lives as women are so different than men’s. Speaking to an audience of a thousand women advisors from across the country at the Barron’s Top 100 Women Financial Advisors Conference in 2007, Sallie Krawcheck, then CEO of Smith Barney, shared a story that represents what it’s like for a woman on a business trip. On this particular day, Sallie was to meet her colleagues downstairs at seven a.m. in the lobby of the hotel. She was up at 4:30, showered, styled her hair, put on her makeup, packed her suitcase, called home to make sure the kids had their lunches and homework ready, gazed down to find a run in her hose, quickly changed her hose, dashed for the elevator, and felt her clothes stick to her skin because of the sweat from rushing around. Sallie met her colleagues downstairs at 6:59 a.m. When she asked what time they got up, none of them had gotten up before 6:30 a.m. The female audience roared with laughter; as professional women, we could all relate.

It feels as if the odds are stacked against us due to the varied demands on our time as caregivers, which means we have to work harder and longer than our male counterparts. More often than not, we are the ones who make sure the children are fed, clothed, and taken care of. And, of course, we can’t forget rushing to sign up before the other working moms for beverages or paper products to bring to kids’ school events, instead of being left with homemade cupcakes. We just have more to do. For the most part, we wouldn’t have it any other way. But the extra demands on our time mean our perspective is different than that of men when it comes to work.

My most successful friends and I get together now and then for dinner to talk about women’s issues at work. Our goal is to bring to light what goes unspoken—to talk about the things we see and experience but don’t say out loud. What mistakes do we see happening today? How do we strike a balance? What tough choices do we make? What was the best advice we received? We all share the typical stories, such as not being taken seriously in meetings by our male colleagues and having too much on our plates. These are the obvious issues. But something else we know, despite our vastly different experiences and backgrounds in the professional world, is that when women don’t have a sense of the unwritten rules of business, they limit their potential for advancement and often doom themselves to a short and undistinguished career. If we knew them, these rules would affect everything about how we present ourselves to the world, from our attitude to our communication style to the way we dress.


Marja Norris is the CEO and Founder of MarjaNorris.com, a company dedicated to helping women achieve their career goals with style and confidence. With a distinguished career in finance, Marja has successfully navigated the male-dominated business world. Working her way up from an entry-level assistant to a Senior Vice President, she draws on her three decades of experience in the corporate world to empower women to pursue their highest goals and blossom into everything they can be.

Marja is passionate about coaching women on projecting their best professional selves. With the publication of her latest book, The Unspoken Code: A Businesswoman’s No-Nonsense Guide to Making It in the Corporate World, Marja’s mission is to provide women with the tools to successfully navigate the workplace through heightened confidence, excellent communication skills, and dressing the part to achieve career success.

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