Last week Catherine Zeta-Jones performed at the Oscars when she was eight months pregnant. What a surprise that behind her Hollywood glitz is a working mom who challenges workplace stereotypes.

Image is so important at the workplace, and the image of a pregnant woman does not scream workplace success. In fact, the image of a pregnant woman usually induces quiet musings about whether she'll ever work again after the baby comes.

Hollywood is the extreme of this problem, because in Hollywood, one's job is to look good. But Hollywood is also the crowd that sets the tone for what is socially acceptable, so it's a big deal that Catherine stood in front of the most important audience of her career and did her job: She sang a song.

Working through one's pregnancy is difficult enough, but Catherine's job is to look sexy and confident. Whether or not she did look sexy is up for discussion (the ranks were divided at the Oscar party I attended). But Catherine did make serious progress toward making people comfortable around working women who are pregnant. And her presence on stage should make the world a little more comfortable with pregnant women wielding power.

My own version of fat Hollywood happened one week before my baby was due. An editor called me to say the magazine (not Bankrate) needed a photo of me. They wanted to set up a photo shoot that week. I went ballistic. I said no way. I reminded the editor that I was forty-five pounds overweight. I vowed to never answer the phone again until the baby came.

But I did answer the phone again. And again. Because the editor called relentlessly. When I could feel myself starting to cry (it happened all the time during the pregnancy), I agreed to a photo session a week after my baby's due date.

The baby came, and in the biggest rip-off of my life, I lost only five pounds during delivery.

The day of the shoot was day three of no sleep, and day four of no shower. The stylist called to ask me to bring shirts in three different colors. I said, “I have one shirt that fits, and it's dirty, and I'll be wearing it.”

Ever since then, I have admonished myself for going to the photo shoot before I lost the pregnancy weight. But now I'm thinking maybe I wasn't so stupid — in the ideal world all women would feel comfortable being their fat, pregnant selves at work.

Take note, though: Catherine made a point of mentioning her hormonal imbalance during her acceptance speech. She mentioned hormones to make sure everyone knows she is not JUST fat, but fat because she's pregnant. Surely a publicist advised this tactic, and I think it's a good one. For better or worse, people perceive fat and pregnant as much more acceptable than just fat.

Recently, I told my editor I lost all my pregnancy weight, and I asked if we could take new photos.

He said; “I think you look like a babe in your photo.”

When he told me that I thought to myself, “He is full of crap.” But that was before the Oscars. I thought Catherine looked good. Fat. But confident. So maybe I exude confidence, too. If only I could write a caption below my photo that mentions something about hormones”

Email is one of the most convenient ways to be impetuously stupid, so if you are writing an email you wouldn't want your boss to read — or the SEC, or your grandma — then don't send it.

Assume that everything you write via email will appear in the business section of the newspaper. Compose your messages with care and pause before you send; ask yourself, “Does this email make me look good?” Obviously, if you are about to lie or cheat, do not send an email to document your lack of ethics. But there are some other, less obvious types of email which won't make you a felon, but they won't make you look good, either, so don't send them.

1. The you're-a-screw-up email
If you need to tell someone they did a bad job, do it in person so you can gauge their reaction. For example, if you open with “Your negligence on this project cost the department $2 million,” and then the employee starts crying, you probably shouldn't continue in an extremely angry tone — at least not until he composes himself. Another reason not to reprimand via email: people will leave this type of email in their in-box for weeks and weeks and reread it every time they want to resurrect their hate for you. Talking in person helps everyone to move past the conflict without sour residue.

2. The I'm-a-screw-up email
Do not document your weaknesses. If you must apologize for botching a project, do it in person so there is no email record of your mistake for people to forward around the office. The more documentation you leave, the more your mistake festers in peoples' minds. And for God's sake, do not send a mass email to apologize. You will invariably announce your screw-up to people who would never have heard of it otherwise.

3. The bcc email
This email function is for people who are insecure, manipulative, and undermining of their co-workers. Even if you are this type of person, do not announce it to everyone by using the bcc function. Sure, only the people in the bcc line realize you're using it. But all those people will understand that you are not strong enough to let everyone know who's reading the email. If you feel compelled to use the bcc function, ask yourself why. Then get up off your chair, go deal with the problem face-to-face, and then go back to your desk to send a more honest email.

4. The joke email
Even if it's the funniest joke of all time (which I am sure it isn't) do not send it to your co-workers. Why make the announcement that you read spam during work hours? You should be working. You might think that telling a joke is a good way to establish rapport, but a spam joke is unoriginal, and impersonal and does nothing to make you closer to co-workers who matter. Besides, if someone thinks the joke is stupid, she will think you are stupid for sending it.

5. The Dear John email
I am amazed at how many people break up via email, from the office. I realize that some people are such dirt bags that they don't deserve a nice breakup. I also realize that if you handle a breakup from your office then the pressures of work can distract you from the drama of your personal life. But I am sure that there will be a web site — maybe a new section on Match.com — for people to publish breakup emails received. And your name will be mud in the dating world if you are known for sending breakup emails from work.

The bottom line is that sending an email is like getting dressed in the morning — both are ways to manage the way people perceive you. The only difference is that if you have a terrible outfit, you can take it off and never wear it again. A terrible email propagates in cyberspace and will seem, to the original sender, to last forever.

Being a whistleblower is fashionable right now. It's appealing to be the person who rights the wrongs of the workplace. And many people dream of busting their boss publicly for smarmy acts done privately.

Discrimination, kickbacks, broken promises — these are illegal and immoral acts that happen every day in the workplace. But be careful. Because the most common result of whistle blowing is not reform. The most common result is that whistleblowers lose their job.

Of course, it is illegal to fire a whistleblower for being a whistleblower per se. But the odds are that you will be fired: First your boss lets you know he hates you. Then you get no new projects. Then you stop having anything to do at work and your career stagnates. If you're lucky, you will be able to go to another company. If you're unlucky, your name will be mud throughout your industry.

This is not to say that we shouldn't have whistleblowers. I am as impressed as anyone else with the three whistleblowers on the cover of Time magazine as “persons of the year.” Cynthia Cooper (WorldComm), Sherron Watkins (Enron) and Coleen Rowley (the FBI), showed enormous courage and integrity when they blew the whistle.

But an important thing about these women is that they were all very advanced in their careers. They were at a point where they were trusted widely for their expertise. And part of their expertise was knowing what really mattered in the moral fabric of corporate America. Surely, they had all been harassed at work, and they had all heard someone cutting corners on commissions. These women probably spent decades reporting nothing. They chose their battle carefully.

If one of these women had made a stink the first time she was harassed, if she had brought that case to court, she probably would have received some sort of financial settlement, but her career would be over. She would not have climbed high enough on the corporate ladder to make the huge difference in corporate ethics that she did.

In order to make a huge difference in corporate ethics that is significant enough to be worth losing your career, you should aim to make a difference at the top. Most people who are at the beginning of their careers will not have the ability to make that difference. All you potential whistleblowers in the whippersnapper ranks, think twice about sacrificing your career in the name of corporate ethics.

You can't be a whistlblower each time your morality is offended: You'd never be able to hold down a job. So wait until the moral aberration is huge. And huge is relative, so know what sort of aberrations are out there so you can compare. (Reading assignment: Tales from the Boom Boom Room for extreme examples of sexual harassment and discrimination.) For the most part, our experiences are not extreme, and they should be dealt with through normal, company means — no need for whistleblowing.

Some times you will report questionable behavior to human resources and nothing will change. Stay focused. You will need to put up with a lot of morally questionable behavior at work in order to climb the ladder to a high enough point where you can make a difference. If you don't make it up the ladder, you will squander your power to make change by making small stinks about small issues that will get no attention from people in power.

For some of you, there will come a time when you do have a case against your company. You should call the Government Accountability Project. This nonprofit group counsels whistleblowers before they toot, and represents them after they get fired.

Until then, hunker down. Report abuse to someone within your chain of command. And don't piss people off so much that you undermine your ability to get real power to make change. Save your moral high ground until you get to high ranks.

Here's a way to kill your career: Have a messy office.

Here are things that people with messy offices say: My work gets done; I know where everything is; People are too concerned about appearances.

All these things could be true. But here is what is also true: If your desk is a mess you look like you're totally out of control.

The FBI has known for decades that you can judge someone by their workspace, which is why the FBI has special investigators who visit the offices of criminals. The FBI doesn't publish their data on this type of investigation, but the University of Texas does. And a study conducted there found that people with messy offices are less efficient, less organized and less imaginative then people with clean desks.

Some of you who are stubborn (and delusional) are saying, “So what? That's not me.” But even if you are definitely sure that you are as efficient in your messy office as your neighbor is in her clean office, your co-workers don't see it that way. The study also found that people perceived messy workers to be inefficient, unimaginative workers.

A messy desk undermines your career in subtle ways. If you are the owner of the company, you give the impression that you cannot handle your position and the company is in trouble. If you are in middle management, when someone is giving away a plumb assignment, she does not think of you because you give the impression that it will go into a pile and never come out. Even if you get every project done well, the perception will be that you don't.

Still not convinced? Would you ever go to work in striped pants and a striped shirt? Why not? You could still do your job. But people would not perceive that you could still do your job, because appearances are powerful, and someone who dresses in a goofy, unconventional way does not inspire confidence. Appearances matter, and the desk in your office is as important as the clothes on your back.

Managers, take note: This study goes both ways. So if you are thinking of promoting someone, you are probably making the wrong decision if the person's desk is a mess. Either they are in over their head, or they do not care, but either way, they will not instill confidence in the people below them. In most cases, messy desker should be passed up for someone who is neat.

Take a tip from GE, a company known for developing outstanding managers throughout its ranks. GE requires everyone to have a sparkling clean desk each night when they go home. This makes sense — GE attempts to make everyone a potential manager by preventing people from undermining themselves.

Some of you might call this rule draconian. I can hear you now, “A messy desk is an expression of who I am.” This is probably true. I believe that a messy desk is a reflection of what is in someone's head. But you need a clear head in order to be creative and efficient in ways that make your work a reflection of your best self.

So take some time this month to clean up your office and create an organized system for maintaining cleanliness. If GE refuses to keep messy desks in its ranks, then you should, too. Start with your own, and then take a look at the people who report to you.

It's salary review season. Most managers conduct performance reviews at the beginning of the year, and most performance reviews entail some sort of salary review. Don't get your hopes up for a raise though. In this economy, many companies have a salary freeze, and no one's coming out of the cold any time soon.

By all means, prepare rationales as to why you should receive a raise. But in the likely event that your boss cannot budge, suggest ways that your boss can reward you for your good performance without giving you a raise.

On the company balance sheet, a raise is very expensive. It's a fixed, recurring cost, and the additional benefits and taxes make the raise even more costly for your company. Your suggestions should be one-time expenses, which are easier to justify to the holder of purse strings. Better yet, suggest something that is free to the company.

1. More vacation days. Go for the gold: ask for three extra weeks and bargain down from there. Take a long break now, while the economy is sluggish and opportunities are scarce.

2. Flex time. You could work one day from home. Or, if you are like 80% of office workers, and you know you'll get nothing done from home, ask your boss if you can work four long days and have one day off. This is a good time to hone your work/life balance.

3.Training. Be creative with this request. Recognize one of your weaknesses and find a top-tier class to deal with it – Try public speaking (TAI Resources is great — and thousands of dollars a day), or leadership. (Tony Robbins is $10K plus airfare to some chi-chi island.)

4. Another salary review in June. This promise is free to your boss, and an easy way to get you off his back right now. Get the promise in writing, but realize that a promise for a review is still not a promise for a raise.

5. A laptop to take home. This is a good request to make if you have a crappy computer at home. Tell your boss you will work from home and this will help her justify the expense to the keeper of the purse strings. (Do not actually do any work from home, though. After all, you didn't get a raise. Instead start that pet project — see #8)

6. Stock options. Stock was a joke in the “?90s because it was so overvalued. But today it's not likely that you work at a company where the stock is overvalued (if you do — fight hard for a raise!) So ask for some stock now, before accounting rules change and stock grants cost your company money on the balance sheet.

7. A plumb project. Look around the company for a project coming up that will make big impact on the company's bottom line. Ask your boss if you can manage that project. It won't get you a raise now, but it'll set you up for a big one down the line.

8. A pet project. If there's no big project you can ask for, what about conjuring up your own project? Figure out what skills you need to add to your resume and create a project that will get you those skills.

When you are negotiating with your boss for a substitute for a raise, the thing to remember is that recessions don't last forever. So instead of focusing on salary now, use this time to put yourself in a good position for when the economy improves. The raise will come a little later, but you will be in line for a bigger one.

I am sitting outside Starbucks waiting until 10 a.m., when I am to meet the CEO, who is waiting for me inside to talk about who-knows-what before we visit a client. I do not want to be one minute early in case I run out of stuff to talk about. He greets me with a huge smile, an energetic handshake, and a two-shot latte. “I got one for you,” he says. I do not tell him this will force me to get up from the meeting 20 times to pee.

He tells me he redid the entire presentation the night before.

He says, “How was your weekend?” I say, “Fine.” Why would he care what my weekend was like? And if he did care, he definitely would be unhappy to hear about it. I ask him how his weekend was because I am trained in the graces of human conduct. He says his brother got in a car accident.

He tells me about his brother. He tells me his brother is depressed and has not been functioning for years. No one knows what to do. He thinks the medication caused the accident.

I take a sip of my latte. What to say? I say, “It must be really hard on your family.” Yes. This is good. Compassionate yet vague.

CEO: Yeah. Depression is so hard to understand.

Me: I know. I have experience with it. People’s first instinct is to say, “Get up. Go do something.”

CEO: Do you know this from other people or personal experience?

I take another sip. Why is he asking this? Why is he having this conversation with me? I decide he needs a friend, and there is no one else he can talk to. I say, “Both.”

At this, he tells all and more. What drugs his brother takes. Why his brother won’t listen to anyone. He tells me his sister is also depressed. He tells me she used to be a real go-getter who could go for weeks without sleep.

I get the whole picture now. I tell him that actually, I know a lot about this stuff. The drug his brother is taking is usually prescribed for depression, but it sounds as though he and their sister are manic-depressives, and his brother’s reaction to the drug was typical for a manic-depressive. I tell him his brother and sister sound like they are at opposite ends of the same hereditary mental illness.

The CEO is wide-eyed. I am worried that he will think I am insane. I say, “Did you read that article in Fortune about CEOs who suffer from mental illness? I think it’s common.” I say, “I think, actually, that you are manic-depressive too, but you are manic, which is great for running a company.”

He says nothing.

I say, “You are lucky.”

He says, “Maybe not. You never know when you will be hit with something like this — when you wake up one day and can’t get out of bed.”

I am pleased that I used my coffee time with the CEO to bond — which is what all the how-to-be-great-at-work books tell you to do. And I think I made a good impression as being someone who has a well-rounded base of knowledge.

Each time in my career that I have ignored sexual harassment aimed at me, I have moved up the corporate ladder. For example, the boss who once pulled all senior management out of the company’s sexual harassment seminar because he thought it was a waste of time — and patted me on the butt as he left the room — has turned out to be my most reliable cheerleader (and a very impressive reference).

In my first eight days of my job at a financial software company, I was sexually harassed six times by my new boss. This list does not include his sexual harassment of me during the interview process, which I chose to ignore, since it was my first interview at a respectable company in six months.

Maybe you’re wondering what, exactly, I regard as sexual harassment. The easiest conversation to relay is this one:

Me: “Thank you for setting up that meeting; it will be very helpful.”

Boss: “Big testicles.” (He then pretends to squeeze his genitals.)

I had no idea what he meant by this comment, but it is short and easy to relay to make my case.

Here are some other choice moments:

When he took me out for lunch on my second day on the job, he told me he once fell in love with a woman as tall as I am but was intimidated by her height, so they just had casual sex. I said nothing in response.

But I knew, from a legal perspective (and also a moral one) that I needed to tell him his comments were unwanted. So that afternoon when he said, “I want to hug you, but it would be illegal,” I said, “You’re right.”

Each night, I relayed some of the best lines from work to my husband. He was stunned. He couldn't believe these events actually happened in today's workplaces. I told him this was standard. He told me I should sue so that we could go to Tahiti. I told him I’d probably settle out of court after three years for about $200,000, and I’d be a pariah in the workplace.

I told my husband that his very hot, 27-year-old boss gets hit on as much as I do. He said he saw her at work all the time and this never happened. I told him that OF COURSE men don’t harass women in front of other men. After all, it’s illegal. Men are not stupid. But I suggested to my husband he was perpetuating the myth that harassment isn’t widespread.

In fact, 44% of women between ages 35 and 49 report experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace — even though almost every company has an explicit, no-tolerance policy. A national survey shows that 21% of all women report being sexually harassed at work, while a Rutger's University study indicates that for knowledge-based workers, the percentage can go as high as 88%. Yet when women leverage the no-tolerance policy their names are plastered over the business pages, and they are blacklisted in their industry.

So the best way to change corporate America is to gain power and then wield it. To get power, you have to stay in the workforce, not the court system, and work your way up. Unfortunately, this means learning how to navigate a boys’ club. But when you know the system, you then are clear about the root of its problems, and you know how to initiate change.

In this spirit, I hatched a plan to rid myself of my harassing boss. Originally, I took a job in business development, even though I hated selling to clients, because it was the only place with an opening. I told myself that the members of the management team were so smart that I would learn to love sales from them. After weeks of harassment, though, I thought management was so smart that if I explained why I wanted to be moved to another department, they would see my request as extremely reasonable. I figured they would be grateful for my low-key approach to this sensitive problem, rather than resentful that I had been hired to work in biz dev and then asked to be switched to a department with no openings.

I was right. I was moved into marketing, which I prefer. I received a more prestigious assignment and gained a smarter boss. Had I reported that I had been sexually harassed during the interview process I would not have gotten the job. Had I reported the harassment to my boss's boss without presenting a plan for solving the problem, I would not have received a better assignment. In fact, if you have a strategy, enduring sexual harassment can be a way to gain power to achieve your long-range goals.

Epilogue: Eventually, my boss was fired. Officially for low performance, though I have always fantasized that it was for rampant harassment.