7 Lies Women Have Been Told at Work That Hold Them Back From Success—And the Truth They Need to Know Instead

UPDATED: May 15, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 18, 2024
Professional woman high fiving her female colleagues because they've seen through the lies women are told at work

Years ago, Bonnie Hammer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal, was at Universal Studios in Orlando, where she accepted an invitation to ride the “daunting” Jurassic World VelociCoaster. She noticed once she was on the ride that she was surrounded by men laughing and screaming. She was the only woman on the ride—and it wasn’t because the other women were scared, she says—at least not of the ride itself. “The fear was about not being taken seriously,” she explains. 

On May 7, she’s releasing a book called 15 Lies Women Are Told At Work… and the Truth We Need to Succeed. 

“It has long been a misconception that to succeed in the workplace, women must stay in their lanes and take pains not to mix work with play,” Hammer says. “But my career has taught me the exact opposite. While thinking about this, it also forced me to think about all the misconceptions and, frankly, lies that women are constantly being told about succeeding at work. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.”

The New York Times has called her “The Queen of Cable TV” for a reason, and she’s navigated a male-dominated industry throughout her career. 

7 Lies Women Have Been Told at Work

So, in the spirit of Hammer’s book and mission, we reached out to other women across numerous industries to find out what lies they’ve been told. Here’s what they had to say. 


Don’t worry about your looks—that’s shallow. But definitely still wear makeup at work.

Eliza VanCort, transformation teacher and author of A Woman’s Guide to Claiming Space: Stand Tall. Raise Your Voice. Be Heard. | New York

“There is all kinds of research that women who are extraordinarily beautiful actually aren’t taken as seriously, but [at the same time], women who don’t have a certain level of what would be considered mainstream attractiveness have a much harder time rising in their career. You have to be sitting right in this squishy middle where you’re pretty but not too pretty. You need to wear makeup, but it can’t be too dramatic.”


“The way to interrupt this kind of toxic messaging is for women to band together and change the narrative. If we find ourselves having a really negative reaction to another woman, we can ask ourselves if we would have the same reaction if she looked differently.”

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You can’t “have it all” as a working parent.

Sonia Petkewich, founder and community leader at Catalyst Mastermind Collaborative | Nevada

“Even as times have changed from when our mothers entered the workforce—and I am turning 50 this year—women are still being made to feel guilty for wanting to have successful careers and be mothers.”


“Working women are beautiful examples of being able to do both. The women I work [with]… have shared that having a career feeds their souls, and they find [it] helps their overall mental health be in a better space to be the best mother for their children. When children see their mother finding joy and succeeding in her work, they are happy and have a strong example of ambition and success.”


You have to sacrifice your personal life for career acceleration and success.

Arivee Vargas, a first-generation Latina lawyer, podcast host, life coach and mother | Massachusetts

The message that you have to sacrifice the personal for the professional perpetuates the notion that women must prioritize one over the other all of the time, and that ‘balance’ is not possible. I prefer the word ‘harmony,’ which reinforces the idea of an ideal arrangement or configuration that produces a desired result. You get to decide how you configure your entire life.” 


“You don’t have to choose between a successful career and a fulfilling personal life. You can have both. 

The key is to get clear on what matters most to you personally and professionally at this time—not what might matter in the future and not what ‘should’ matter to you. Then double down on those priorities for the time being and be intentional about your actions so they reflect those priorities.

If you want to go for the promotion, take on a highly visible project or take on a growth opportunity that will expand your skill set. You know it will be more of a peak period in terms of energy and time, [so] configure your personal life so that you’re still able to spend the time and energy on the people and things that bring you the most joy and fulfillment. Say ‘no thank you’ to everything that does not align with what you’ve decided to be laser-focused on.”


You can’t be emotional if you want to be taken seriously.

Nikki Innocent, holistic coach for career, life and interpersonal change and founder of Inclusive Leadership Collective | New York

“If you grew up with ‘there’s no crying in baseball’ from A League of Their Own as part of your pop culture references to how women are welcome in a man’s world, it is no wonder so many of us feel like we have to shove down, mask or detach from our emotions to get by. For women in particular, the emotion that holds so much power is anger, but it’s been positioned as something that is unladylike or something to feel ashamed about. Boys are given the emotion of anger as acceptable and women are given sadness.”


“When I work with women, I reintroduce them to the power of their emotions and encourage them to use strong emotional responses as clues and key intel on how they are feeling about something, but also what they genuinely want to do next. We are such nuanced, complicated beings, and our emotions are part of the secret sauce of what makes us human. 

The other thing that allowing yourself to be vulnerable and show emotion does in terms of interacting with others is, it opens up pathways for genuine connection, shared experiences and collective support. When we are able to share how our emotions have come into play, it gives us more information and opportunity to resolve conflict, identify areas of alignment and resonance and areas primed for growth and release.”


You’ll be more successful if you emulate stereotypical male behaviors.

Jade Kearney, CEO and co-founder of She Matters, a digital health platform and authority in Black maternal health | New York

“In my personal experience fundraising, I’ve been told by both men and women over and over that it’s impossible for Black women to raise $1 million or more, and that Black women can’t raise the same amount of money as men. That is because if you look at the statistics, less than 0.5% of Black women founders have raised VC funds. Even women say this because they’ve been conditioned to buy into the Silicon Valley patriarchal status quo.”


“I think it’s the exact opposite—women should be themselves. Authenticity and happiness lead to the best kind of success. If you believe in your solution, you can find success. I’m living proof of that.”


If you speak up or advocate for yourself, it will be seen as self-promoting.

Monica Xuereb, chief commercial officer, Loews Hotels & Co a luxury hotel brand | Florida

Women often have a harder time speaking up and advocating for themselves, as they don’t want to be perceived as aggressive, pushy or conceited.”


“Early on in my career, I was given opportunities to start presenting in front of senior leadership. This gave me the confidence to start expressing my opinions and suggestions in addition to the core content I was speaking about. I became comfortable speaking up in meetings overall, often articulating the thoughts that others were reluctant to voice. Although never easy, self-advocacy became a natural extension for me to communicate my accomplishments, abilities, goals and most importantly, my desire for growth.”


It’s OK to settle for less.

Franchesca Van Buren, founder and CEO of Insight Therapy Solutions | Nevada

“Too many of those moments and pretty soon you won’t have the confidence to go after anything that might be a stretch. And how can anyone succeed under those circumstances?”


“It’s not OK to settle for less, whether in your salary, your position or the responsibilities you are given at work, the respect you know you deserve, etc. Every time you settle for something less than you deserve, it colors your identity and self-worth in a negative way.” 

Bonnie Hammer’s 15 Lies Women Are Told at Work hits shelves May 7th

Hammer says she hopes that when women finish reading her book about lies they will, “Close the book, pour themselves a glass of wine (or my favorite, tequila), raise it and let out a loud ‘HELL YEAH.’”

“Seriously, my hope is that this book will provide women with the tools to counter all the wrong-headed corporate clichés that have held them back in the workplace,” she adds. “I want them to seize opportunities and take control of their own stories, writing their next chapters to create careers—and live lives—that match their true potential. Because, believe me, we can make it happen: A workplace where assured, confident, empowered women are everywhere you look—all the way up to the C-suite.”

Photo by Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com