Why Career Women Should Stop Thinking in Terms of "Making Do"

Women Need to Stop Accepting Long Working Hours
by Abby Roskind
February 10, 2016

As women, we'll get more respect at the office if we're less emotional.

Dress in a pantsuit instead of a dress for your interview; you’ll feel more in control. 

You should consider your tone in meetings to avoid coming across as “bossy.”

Talk about your accomplishments using the word “we” to avoid coming across as self-centered.

You’ve probably heard some tips like these before, and if you’ve been tracking the ‘glass ceiling’ discussion over the past few years, you know they’re objectionable. We’ve read plenty on how to speak out against these types of “helpful suggestions” and lean in. But today, I want to talk about some subtler forms of “making do” that permeate our workdays.  

A couple weeks back, Career Contessa published a piece on dealing with a stagnant job by finding ways to turn the every day into a vacation. Our writer had some great suggestions for thinking outside the cubicle box and taking direct action to change our daily lives. But we also got a pretty thought-provoking comment, which made us take a hard look at our perspective. One reader wrote: 

“Suggesting that we get up earlier to go to a different coffee shop [in order to vary your routine] or stay up later to attend another webinar creates more work for us… while leaving the structure that causes the burnout symptoms blameless and intact.”

Why do women so often feel like they need to “make do” in crappy circumstances? Is this attitude harmful to women’s career aspirations and/ or life goals, or is it a useful mechanism that can help us persevere through tough times?


The discussion got me thinking about how women are told they must be twice as good as their male counterparts in order to succeed (i.e. in order to make it in a patriarchal world), which got me thinking about a concept I’d recently read about in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.

The concept of “The Dream,” he argues, is a national belief system created to sustain a certain way of life, one that is built on the deprivation and annihilation of minority groups, specifically the black body. In order for “The Dream” to survive, it became so pervasive and ingrained in American society that no one was exempt from eliciting or experiencing it. It’s a perspective Americans buy into, allowing it to survive and thrive.

Speaking to his son, for whom the book is written, Mr. Coates writes:

“You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable. None of that can change the math anyway. I never wanted you to be twice as good as them, so much as I have always wanted you to attack every day… I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between some of what Mr. Coates writes about in The Atlantic and in his books, and the idea that women are compelled to conform to standards in the workplace that were not made with them in mind. {Click to Tweet}

You don’t have to be twice as good, you need to be as good as you possibly can be.

I believe it’s easy for women to think in terms of “making do” as their own sort of dream because it has been, and continues to be, our history. It’s permeating and systemic in many ways—for example, in the way women are often given pet names in the office (“Thanks, doll.” “Pass me that, honey?”), how women ingratiatingly accept the last handshake, and in how women are continually justifying running a successful home and career. Perhaps it’s even apparent when we celebrate women who successfully strike a work-life balance—they must be sacrificing, in some way, in order to find solutions to “make it all work.” 

The act of making do is something that everyone encounters on an almost daily basis, but the fact that it’s become the standard for how women approach the world and their careers is a fault of our society. Rather than having to compromise, why can’t we change the dialogue? 


This may seem like an unfortunate fact of the world we live in, something that has been recognized and will one day be overcome. But “Power concedes nothing without demand” (thank you very much, Mr. Coates), which means that as long as we continue to “make do” on the small scale, our protests against larger gender biases won’t go far.

Women should stop apologizing for their ideas, start telling everyone what they need and stay consistent with their treatment and expectations of others. We know this. But shouldn’t we also start asking questions about the seemingly mundane inconsistencies as well? 

Why should I volunteer to take on more challenging work, without any extra benefit, when I know my male colleagues wouldn’t? 

I know my male coworkers go out for drinks after work, so why am I not invited? 

Why do I let my coworker call me by my first name when he calls all his male colleagues by their last?

If these questions make you feel uncomfortable or conflicted, I get you. I don’t think anyone is immune from falling victim to “the dream,” no matter how you conceptualize it, and it’s definitely not a comfortable place to be. Comfort’s also not the point. 

You don’t have to be twice as good, you need to be as good as you possibly can be.

What are your thoughts? Are we doing enough "leaning in"? Do the "little things" really matter?