“Do you work non-stop without taking breaks? Do you worry that your feedback will offend people? Do you always ask colleagues for advice before making decisions? Or do you simply want everyone to like you?”, read Diana Kartojudo (53) three years ago, on the back cover of Lois Frankel’s book Nice girls don’t get the corner office. She answered all of these questions with a resounding ‘yes’. The result, according to Frankel, is that you are probably regularly passed over for promotion and unable to make your dreams come true. “It’s like the book was written for me”, Kartojudo says.

Favourite genre: self-improvement

Motivation: to become happier.

Number of books per year: ten audiobooks per year. “Because I’m studying again at the moment, so I quickly get sick of reading.”

Last book read: Vallen: voor je het weet ben je verliefd… (Falling: you’re in love before you know it…) – Jackie van Laren. “It’s total chick lit”, she laughs. “It’s about a journalist who travels with a band in order to write about them. I actually play in a fifties-style rockabilly band myself: I sing, play the piano and write songs.”


She actually wishes she had read the book a long time ago. As a 23-year-old IT graduate, she landed – after spending a lot longer job hunting than her male fellow students – in a world dominated by men, where she was often underestimated and began to doubt herself. “The preconception was: men are suited to IT and women are not.”

She regularly heard sceptical comments, even at the university, where she has now worked for 27 years and has been a cybersecurity engineer for almost 2 years. For example, she has been asked ‘are you actually qualified to do this?’ on more than one occasion. She noticed that new clients who needed assistance with technical issues initially had doubts about her ability to help them. “I used to be a real girly-girl; I wore dresses and make-up. People would literally say to me: ‘I was expecting a man with a plaid shirt and hiking boots, then you walked in.’”

Imposter syndrome

Despite the fact that she was always supported by her immediate colleagues, all those years she felt as though she constantly had to prove herself. That made her insecure. A little voice in her head would say, “People think I can’t do it, so maybe I actually can’t.” She developed imposter syndrome: the feeling that you are not good enough for what you are doing, and sooner or later people are going to find out. She stayed in the background and took on a nurturing role.

According to Frankel, that is exactly what you should not do. In her book, she gives no fewer than 133 tips on how not to behave in the workplace as a woman. Laugh less, make faster decisions, do not bring food for your colleagues and dress for the job you want. In other words: stop being the nice girl, and become a woman with a serious job. After every chapter, Kartojudo thought, “Oh God, I’m doing it all wrong.”


The book made Kartojudo aware of her nurturing role at work. “I realised that my colleagues more often took on projects that made them visible”, she says. “I wanted to do projects too, but I kept finishing off all the smaller tasks that other people had left undone, so that the whole team could perform well. But you don’t get as much credit for that.”

Since reading the book, she spends more time on projects. She also makes faster decisions (‘better to make the wrong decision than to be indecisive’), she no longer giggles self-consciously after making a suggestion, she brings food for her colleagues less often (‘it’s a nice thing to do, but also a stereotypical thing for a woman’) and she no longer cleans the department kitchen.

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Kartojudo says it is sometimes hard to choose between truly being herself and behaving how the book says she should behave. “For example, I no longer wear dresses to work, and in a way that’s really silly”, she says. “If your laptop has been hacked, it shouldn’t matter whether the person who’s helping you is wearing a dress and high heels and has put her hair up. But it makes my life so much easier if I look more ‘businesslike’. So I’ve tried to find the middle ground: no floral dresses, but a nice loose-fitting blouse is fine.”

Kartojudo has learned an important lesson from all the tips: “It’s not about my level of knowledge, it’s about my self-sabotage”, she says. “If you can break that habit, you’ve made it.”

And she has managed to do so. More self-confident and free of her imposter syndrome – for which she can also thank her lovely colleagues – she is now trying to support a new female colleague. “I see myself in her. Sometimes, she says: ‘I don’t know everything, so I ask a lot of questions.’ I tell her: ‘You’re having to ask five thousand questions a day, and you know a lot more than you think.’”

Diana Kartojudo graduated with an IT degree in the 1990s and then went to work in the administration department of the Ministry of Social Affairs. She soon returned to the university: in 1996, she started working at the help desk. After a wide variety of IT roles at the university, she has now been a cybersecurity engineer for almost two years.