Office Diva or Office Mom: Are We Doomed to Perpetuate These Office Archetypes

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People talk about psychiatrist Carl Jung's system of archetypes as they apply to life or business. We might refer to leadership archetypes, sit-com archetypes, and general personality archetypes. But women seem to have their own set of archetypical character types that follow them into the workplace. Maybe we've even worked for the office diva or felt nurtured by the office mom. Maybe we've felt like the office damsel in distress at times, depending on the IT hero to rescue us from frozen PC-screen hell. Maybe we've doubted our dependable shoes after the office femme fatale sauntered through her office door in four-inch heels.

The problem with office archetypes, particularly from the point of view of women, is that they're limiting. Moreover, most of the archetypes that women have historically been labeled aren't especially flattering. Having earned a reputation as a certain office 'type,' many women wonder if they can ever break free from its limiting and sometimes corrosive connotations. Some women may even contemplate leaving their current position and company in order to shed their unwanted office archetype. We have to know that each individual is distinctive—unique. So, rather than suffering these stereotypical labels, we've got to find ways to shed them, and that means, we have to stop using them when describing ourselves and our colleagues.

Archetype Drawbacks

What's so bad about being labeled the office mom? Moms are lovable. Moms remember coworkers' birthdays. Maybe they make sure the coffee is always stocked or bring in brownies for working holidays. The problem archetypes like this—the office mom isn't typically regarded as the office alpha. The office alpha is the star, the game changer, the dynamo. Of course, we can run down the list of common office archetypes and outline their drawbacks, but the key takeaway is that they are limiting and, often, those constraints have real-world consequences. Who's going to get the big account? The office mom, the alpha, or the helper? The fact is, your office reputation can be costing you financially.

Have You Been Typecast?

The first step to shedding a negative office archetype is knowing if you've been typecast. Have you labeled yourself? How do you think others in your workplace perceive you? Do you find yourself taking the meeting minutes more than any other sales pro? Do you know everything about everyone—are you the fount of office gossip? Do people find your sense of ambition or empowerment to be intimidating? You might have cultivated an office persona—an archetypical label that's preventing you from showcasing other aspects of your personality, other positive features that you bring to the workplace.

Cultivating a Multitype Persona

If you've determined that you've, indeed, been typecast, you can do something about it. First, it's important to know what your audience sees. In this case, the audience is likely your sales team or company, but it could even be your client base. Something about you cemented that persona in their mind. Reflect upon what those things might be; you might choose to continue to perform some of those things and you might choose to stop doing others.

Next, to break out of that archetypical box you've been thrust into, begin to exhibit behaviors that are uncharacteristic of the role, but still authentically you. This isn't necessarily easy and it takes careful reflection. Take the case of the office femme fatale; she might genuinely enjoy working with men. However, she doesn't want to alienate women. To begin to shed that persona, she might go out of her way to network with other women in her office, to partner with a woman for an upcoming project. Taking a few steps in a new direction allows you to exhibit new traits and, in time, others are sure to notice. The key is to repeat and repeat these actions again and again. Be deliberate in order to achieve the results you crave.

Talk to a Mentor or Trusted Colleague

It always helps to get advice from a trusted colleague or mentor when you're facing challenges at work. Discuss your situation with someone and ask them to give you some objective advice. Ask them to point out when you're exhibiting those diva tendencies like complaining—again—about your office chair or need for some special accommodation. You truly might not always realize when you're exhibiting stereotypical behavior that's indicative of a negative office archetype. Having an ally point out those missteps can help you correct them—or, at least allow you to reflect upon them.

Enlist the Help of Management

You can always ask your manager to please stop referring to you as the office mom, but there may be more strategic ways to call management's attention to this type of issue. You might simply start up a conversation about how you feel that labels limit. You might suggest a workshop for the entire sales team or staff to discuss an issue like this. If you see that someone else is suffering from an archetypical label, you might point out other qualities that they offer—suggesting that they are much more than a fussy diva. Ideally, your management wants a happy, productive workplace; once managers understand the positives associated with breaking free from these roles or embracing multiple aspects of many different roles, they may be more helpful to employees who are trying to cultivate new skills and traits.

Women are versatile, flexible, adaptable—so, it only makes sense to celebrate these aspects of ourselves in the workplace because they do our office good—they do us good too. Being typecast can feel disheartening, but you don't have to settle. However, you do have to model the change you want to be associated with. If you want to be viewed as more aggressive, you have to speak fearlessly in meetings. If you want to shed that mom persona, stop making sure that everyone got the meeting handout. In short, you can ultimately change your type by showcasing other aspects of your personality that you want to shine. It may take time, but the more you model them, the more they'll reveal who you really are.

Cynthia Barnes is recognized as one of the most influential Women in Sales leaders and professional development experts in the world. The former Top 1% saleswoman founded the National Association of Women Sales Professionals in 2016, the nation’s only organization dedicated to helping women sales professionals reach the Top 1% and Dance on the Glass Ceiling™. She is recognized by Sales Hacker one of the 35 Most Influential Women in Sales.

You can connect with Cynthia via LinkedIn and Twitter.