In Partnership with Luke Lintz

It is widely believed that nice guys finish last. What about nice girls, then? In this article, we speak with the girl boss and budding model Katya Karlova about what being ‘agreeable’ really means for women in the workplace, and society in general.

A study published by the University of Notre Dame found something interesting, though hardly surprising, about agreeableness as a character trait for workplace leaders.

“Disagreeable men are considered tough negotiators, which is why they earn a premium if they’re disagreeable,” says author Professor Timothy Judge. “Meanwhile, disagreeable women are considered a control freak or ‘the B-word.’”

In other words, men are lauded for being disagreeable, while women are taught to avoid nasty nicknames and criticism by being more agreeable and by always being nice.

Being Nice Isn’t Always Nice

Katya Karlova believes women leaders have a lot more to gain by challenging this double standard than by playing into it.

“Women tend to say, ‘yes’ more because we are taught that being agreeable is better than being seen as a control freak or a bitch,” says Karlova. “But that always, always works against them, because being agreeable sends a message that it’s okay to not treat you well.”

At present, Karlova works as the VP of Talent Acquisition of a marketing company, and she did not get all the way to the top by being “agreeable.” Instead, she worked hard on her negotiation skills, learned how to highlight the value she brings to the table, and took every opportunity to advocate for herself.

Karlova admits her ‘disagreeable’ behavior has led to a lot of difficult conversations in the workplace. Still, she says it’s worth it because she always comes out of those conversations being heard and having her point of view recognized.

“It’s not easy, but it’s worth it,” says Karlova. “And I wish more women would advocate for themselves.”

Karlova says the first step is for women to value their own skills and what they bring to the table.

“If you don’t recognize your own worth, you’ll find it really hard to advocate for yourself. That’s when you get stuck in an environment that makes you feel unhappy or unappreciated,” says Karlova. “Worse, a lot of women are forced to put up with sexism and discrimination in the workplace because they’d rather be agreeable than call someone out for bad behavior.”

Living Her Best Life

There were many instances that challenged Katya Karlova’s commitment to advocating for herself. One such instance was when she first decided to pursue modeling.

“While I’ve always loved my work and being a leader, I’ve always struggled with mental health and body image issues,” admits Karlova. “And after two years of remote working gave me the opportunity to reflect on all these issues, I realized I needed something more than my professional, corporate life to address them.”

Fortunately, Karlova found a breakthrough in modeling. Through her photos, Karlova shows how a woman can be both accomplished and educated, and also confident about her sexuality.

However, the decision to start modeling lingerie didn’t come easily for Karlova in the beginning. She imagined her employers would take issue with it, as it’s not very common for female executives to attend board meetings in the morning and pose in lingerie at night. So, Katya Karlova mulled over it long and hard before she finally said—screw it.

“In the end, I thought, you know what? It doesn’t matter what my employer is going to think, this is something I need to do for me,” says Karlova. “Because if they are going to have an issue with an empowered woman taking control of her life and her story by doing something she’s passionate about, then that’s not an organization I’d want to be affiliated with.”

As soon as Karlova dipped her toe in the water, her modeling account on Instagram started growing fast and organically. People loved her content, and she enjoyed telling her story. That’s when she realized she had made the right choice to explore another side of her personality, disagreeable as it may have been in the context of her professional career.

With the early success of her modeling career, Karlova looks to modeling full-time in the future. She says she also wants to become more of a public speaker and a motivational leader, perhaps one day even doing her own TED talk on why more women should be disagreeable.

“A whole world of opportunities has opened up to me since I went headfirst into something I wanted to try, regardless of what other people might think,” says Karlova. “This is what it means to be disagreeable. It doesn’t mean being a bitch or being impossible to work with; it’s just being firm and confident about how you want to be treated.”

With that, Katya Karlova’s story illustrates that just like with guys, nice gals do finish last. Disagreeable women, on the other hand, get what they deserve and more.