Lisa C. Quast & Career Woman, Inc.
How to Navigate Cultural and Gender Politics at Work


“I’m never going to move up in my career!” exclaimed Leslie with a sigh.  It was late on a Friday evening and Leslie was still at work, diligently trying to process the immense stack of orders on her desk.  “Why did I ever take this job in the first place?  No one even knows I exist at this company.”


Let’s face it – life isn’t easy and some days, it sure doesn’t feel very fair.  How many of us spent time in school never doubting that our education and training were preparing us for successful careers?  And how many of us later discovered we had not been prepared to navigate the cultural and gender politics in the workplace in order to climb the career ladder? 


“How come no one in college taught me how to get noticed at work or to achieve my career goals?” lamented Leslie to herself.  “All anyone ever talked about was joining a company, going with the flow, and hoping somebody, some day recognized their abilities and potential and plucked them from the masses to help them rise to business stardom.”  Leslie leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms in defiance.  “Yeah, right.  Nice in theory, but completely wrong in practice.”




As a college student Leslie felt she could achieve anything and she graduated at the top of her class, believing she could take on the world.  She was excited to be offered her first job after college at a Japanese firm because:  1) One of her best friends was from Japan; 2) Leslie had studied Japan as her key area of focus during her international business classes; and, 3) Leslie had taken a 10-day trip to Japan and found their culture to be incredibly intriguing. 


However, once Leslie immersed herself in the business world, the reality of her situation became painfully clear.  She was functioning in a world where her potential was not being fully realized.  It was the late 1980’s and she was a female in what was still, very much, a man’s world.  Worse yet, not only was she female, she was a 5’2” American female with blonde hair and blue eyes – working for a Japanese company where almost every person in management was a Japanese male.


Leslie often felt under utilized and under appreciated.  She worked as fast and as efficiently as possible, outworking literally everyone around her.  Leslie completed every task and project assigned and turned them in on time and at the highest possible quality.  And she worked, and worked, and worked.  Leslie never complained and always had a smile on her face and a positive comment for others.  But there she stayed, never moving up in the organization.


One day, while sitting at her desk working late into the night, Leslie experienced an epiphany.  She realized she had been waiting for others to recognize her great work; she had been waiting for others to see her potential.  S