The Unspoken Code In The Workplace By Marja Norris

The Unspoken Code In The Workplace

What goes unspoken is this: There are underlying male-oriented rules and expectations in the workplace that nobody is going to tell you about. But if you aren’t aware of them, you’ll likely never make it to the top of the ladder. Yes, it’s unfair. And that’s why nobody’s talking about it. As a woman, you have to learn and adapt to the ins and outs of your professional environment before you can reach a level of power that will allow you to push the envelope toward something more diverse and inclusive.

In the Workplace

I remember when I started out at PaineWebber and the office space was getting tight. Another female advisor and I were told our offices were needed to make room for some new advisors. They turned the break room into a shared office— our desks side by side. We worked there as other employees walked in and out, often in conversations on the way to the pop machine. It was laughably unfair, but I said nothing and did not complain. Instead, I worked harder than ever. Did I like sitting there? No. Were the people in the office waiting for some female drama? Yes. Did they see drama? No. Had it gone on for a year, or had they put an employee of our same level in an office, I would have felt differently and taken different action. But I was in this for the long haul, and this strategy helped me be seen as a team player and gain respect from the men in the office. Noted. Check.

A Culture Shift 

A culture shift won’t happen over months or years—and maybe even decades—unless we do something differently today. Instead of waiting for the culture to open up to accommodate for the female perspective, I propose we learn the unspoken code of business and make it work for us. This code is about understanding the behaviors that differentiate power players from the rest of the pack. It’s about exuding confidence from the inside out. It’s about building assertiveness and flexing communication skills and conveying a professional image. Because the business world was built by men, for men, they begin their careers from a position of comparative advantage and understand much of these behaviors intuitively. They’ve been socialized for it. The workplace expects this behavior from its leaders, and while that may change in the future, I believe we must work to meet the expectations right now.

Women’s views and approaches make this world a better, kinder, more rewarding place to live and work. The shift is happening, but it’s not happening fast enough. So let’s make our voices heard by eliminating the elements of our professional lives that prevent others from hearing. Let’s acknowledge stereotypes then subvert them by being mindful and aware of how we unconsciously feed into them in our daily routines. Let’s learn how to convey our self-confidence in a way that it won’t be mistaken for anything else.


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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