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Mistakes Even Smart Women Make in the Workplace


By Crystal Cotton

Updated on July 17, 2023

I’m always inspired by the resilience women have shown in overcoming work-life challenges — balancing family and career, and making choices which affect their family’s physical, mental and emotional health, — yet, still baffled by some of the mistakes smart women make in the workplace.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics today’s workforce majority is female (57.1 %), and about 59% of women hold Bachelor’s degrees.

More women are CEOs of their own or Fortune 500 Companies than ever before. Women CEOs run 10.4% of Fortune 500 companies.

And, women are now dominating formerly male-heavy fields like Financial Analyst, CPA’s and Health Care Administrators.

Great strides, right? So why are so many smart women still struggling to make successful paths for themselves at work? Why have some women catapulted over the gender disparities, while others can’t break through?

Despite the socio-economic, gender based & societal issues; the answer is simpler than you might think. It’s because some women are still making the same old mistakes of letting gender stereotypes shape their identity.

Common workplace mistakes even smart women make.

1. Not Seeking a Mentor:

Women are less likely than men to seek mentors in the workplace for leadership and managerial guidance and more for friendships and support. Mentorship is key to high level achievement and is a strategic career move.

2. Failing to Ask for What You Want:

When you don’t ask for what you want you eliminate real choices, and the option to negotiate. It leaves opportunities you want for the taking by someone else. If there is a special project you want to work on, ask to be a part of it, or don’t get angry when someone else is chosen.

3. Using Nurturing as a Primary Skill:

Yes, women are nurturers, but nurturing is not a workplace skill. Women should avoid the tendency to “mother” others in the workplace. Encourage, support and show compassion, but refrain from the motherly nurturing.

4. Overusing the Feminine Wiles:

Call me old fashioned but I still believe that “sexy” has no role in the workplace. There is a big difference between being fashionable, well-groomed, trendy, attractive and stylish at work, and being sexy. Your image shouldn’t include overtly sexy, distracting wardrobe which makes it hard for people to take you seriously.

5. Giving Away Your Power:

When you fail to exercise your options, make decisions and ask for what you want, you turn your power over to others. They get to call the shots, leading to feelings of powerlessness. Know the value of your skills and talent and use it to empower you in the workplace.

6. Confusing Business with Personal Issues:

This is merely my observation, but men seem to have a better compass for separating business and personal relationships. When friendships go awry in the workplace, women are less likely to be as productive until the conflict has been resolved — taking every personal slight as an affront to their professional standing. Men more readily confront it and move on.

7. Letting the Desire to Be Liked Get In The Way:

So often I hear women say things like, “I didn’t want to say No, because I wanted them to like me”. I’d never under-estimate the power of “likability” but this creates stress, impossible deadlines and internal conflict. Often, the feeling of being taken advantage stems from being unwilling to voice opposite opinions, or just say “No” to unreasonable demands.

Any of these sound familiar? I have personally observed these missteps in my work with women (most of my clients are female). Some, I too made early in my career. Having been in the workforce since I was 16, I’ve experienced the typical challenges: sexism, harassment and unequal treatment. I’ve said, and done things that did more harm than good.

But, the beauty of it all, is the lesson and the opportunity to correct (and not repeat) costly mistakes like those listed above; paving the way for a career built on the true value and strength of smart women in the workplace.

Crystal Cotton headshot

Crystal Cotton currently holds the position of Director of People and Culture at CJA. As a high-ranking member of the leadership team, her responsibilities are extensive and varied. She offers guidance on an array of matters to help both the staff and leadership understand the intricate policies, procedures, and entitlements that impact talent management and the overall employment life cycle within the organization.

Check out other articles by best-selling authors:

Dawn Rasmussen – Top Five Questions About Resumes Answered

Sunny Lurie – Eight Proven Strategies to Open the Door to a Vibrant New Career

Stacia Pierce – How to Search for a Job During the Holidays

Dawn Quesnel- Helpful Hints for Job Seekers

Stacia Pierce – Conceit vs. Confidence


  1. Nikka Hutcherson

    This article was so on time!!!! I think it was very well written and filled with cutting edge, necessary tools for success in today’s job market. I think with the job market being the way it is, the information provided in this article is a must have for the job seeker’s tool kit. I even found some mistakes that I was doing as a professional and I intend to apply what I read to my career. I know that this will help me in my endeavors in being successful in my professional career.

  2. Verushka Velez

    Great article!!!

    I I definitely need to apply #1, #5 and #6!!!!

    Crystal thank you for sharing!!!

  3. Monica Moser

    First of all I would like to congratulate you on such an amazing article!! Secondly, thank you for opening my eyes and refreshing my mind to what is truely impt in the work place. We need more women like you Crystal! Looking foward to your next article. I will be sharing this one with family and friends. Dominican Commercial should be very proud of you!!

  4. Diana Rivera

    Great article!

  5. Roxanna Reid-Johnson

    Great article! I agree on most points. Having been a part of the workforce for 10 yrs before I had my children, I have seen many of these things happen, to others including myself. Number one thing I’ve seen most is mixing business with personal. When it comes to men and women, we do have a harder time separating this.

  6. G. Lopez

    I found the article interesting & enlightening & found the advice to be really fundamental. I actually feel more empowered now that I know I could be standing in my own way! I appreciate the author sharing the knowledge. I look forward to reading more articles from her.

  7. KimM

    Great article! Every point is so true, if not only for myself, but as witnessed in coworkers. Especially about straddling professional vs. sexy! I will be sending this all of fellow female professionals! Thanks!

  8. Miriam Carvajal

    What a great article! I found this piece to be very interesting and insightful.

  9. Richard

    Great article! I have a staff made up of primarily women. Unfortunately they do suffer from many of these common missteps. I will definitely recommend that they read this and hopefully put some of the tips provided into practice.

    • Charla

      I found just what I was needed, and it was enttieainrng!

  10. Crystal

    Getting some great feedback on linked in…so many women recognizing themselves in the examples above are raising their level if consciousness and deciding to take back their power and regain their voice in the work place. I’m inspired!!

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