I had a wonderfully refreshing conversation with a woman on my team this week about gender stereotypes. She is right out of college, with her entire career ahead of her. We were having a casual discussion about her first office experience. When I asked her if she has yet to truly feel the difference of what it was like being a woman in the workplace, she replied with, “I haven’t really thought of it yet; I guess I don’t see a difference.”
Woo hoo! Cue happy dance. That’s the right direction. It made me smile from ear-to-ear.
Then it made me a bit jealous.
It made me think back on my career and to all the times I felt like an outsider sitting in a meeting or on a business trip. But the more I thought about it, I would say that the term that best describes how I felt working my way up the corporate ladder was…confused.
I realized that I was constantly conflicted about who I was actually supposed to be in corporate America. When I added up all the different tidbits of advice I had received during my career climb, I’m surprised I can still actually find my desk anymore.
There was a pretty amazing video on HuffPost Women recently that summed up the issue pretty quickly. Check it out below.
It inspired me to write a quick list of the conflicting statements that have been said to me throughout my career (from men and women) that have confused the heck out of me.
Here it goes:
“Don’t be gossipy in the office or hang out with a bunch of women in the workplace. Keep focused on the work.”
“If you can’t get along with the women in the office – that speaks volumes.”
“Don’t be so emotional.”
“We are looking for someone who is passionate and has a fire in them for this work!”
“If you stay focused on your career and keep your head down and your work sharp, you will be fast-tracked.”
“If you continue to work at such a fast pace, you will burn yourself out and your team.”
“You need to hold your own in meetings and not let others talk over you.”
“People tend to find you intimidating which will make it more difficult for collaboration across different teams.”
“We need more women in management at our firm. We know it’s an issue and are dedicated to addressing it this year.”
“These senior level positions require a massive amount of travel and a lot of hours and we need someone without any constraints at home who can do this work.”
“We need a project manager who can really handle this client. I know you’re right for the job.”
“We all knew this client would love you and your cute, little suits.”
I had a good chuckle making this list. I remember receiving these powerful nuggets and often contemplating the conflicting feedback I would hear from different members of my team on my commute home, as I tried to figure out a way I could actually balance this magic act.
Could I stay friends with women in the workplace yet never be seen talking to them in the hallway or in the lunchroom?
Could I hold my own in meetings and command a conversation yet not be deemed intimidating by those who were trying to take control?
Could I wear a suit that was actually made and tailored for a woman and not have assumptions made that I was trying to win clients by my sex appeal?
How could I show passion and drive for what I do but not come across emotional?
And it doesn’t just happen in the workplace. When I would step out of the boardroom and into my community neighborhoods, I would get it on that side too.
“Good for you for staying focused on your career and not giving it up once you had kids.”
“You have a nanny? You’re okay with someone else raising your children?”
“I can imagine your travel schedule is tough but kids are resilient and will cope!”
“Does your husband trust you while you travel so much? Who goes to your kids’ games?”
It’s no wonder women are often walking around feeling overwhelmed and pulled into different directions. And again, much of these observations came from women (both in and out of the workplace).
So, when I think back to my bright-eyed, new colleague who has yet to experience any of this – I wonder how long she can make it in her career (and life) without the confusion setting in.
Who knows – maybe times have truly changed? Maybe women really can be who they want to be at work and at home without receiving conflicting feedback and points-of-view that not only confuse them but are hurtful and degrading.
That would be truly wonderful.
That might even make me shed a tear!
Dammit! I need to stop being so emotional…
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The fact that the comments made to you all seem to contradict themselves leads me to believe that no one had it right!
I am still too aggressive (aka pushy, bossy or bitchy), too impatient (also pushy, bossy or bitchy) and tend to “go around” people to get what I want. Of course, my male colleagues have the same traits but the adjectives are so different. (“Strong leader” and “go getter” come to mind!).
Absolutely, Autumn. I spent so much of my 20s trying to conform based on advice like that and I ended up not being me. Now that I’m older, I know who I want and need to be in the office and at home. But that’s wasn’t an easy task.