The tightrope you walk as a woman in the business world is a delicate balancing act requiring constant minute adjustments and fine tuning. With authenticity being the buzz word of the moment, thanks to writers and thought leaders like Brene Brown, it is now acceptable, and even in vogue, to pull back the veil of our polished, superwoman demeanor and talk openly about the challenges of being both healthy women and successful career professionals in today’s workplace.
While we have journeyed a great distance from the Mad Men days of being relegated to making the coffee, answering the calls and working only long enough to find a suitable husband then retire to the home and start our second career as wife and mother—we still do not make equal pay for equal work, are underrepresented in management and on executive teams and face judgments not levied against our male counterparts in the office. As Women, we are required to have a pleasing appearance, nails and hair and makeup done flawlessly with matching hand bag and shoes sporting the right designer insignia and tailored fit dress, not too low cut, but not prudish and god forbid it’s from two seasons ago. We can have educational degrees, experience and work ethic that puts everyone else on the team to shame, and still overhear whispers of how we probably slept our way to the top when jealously and office politics rear their twisted heads. We lug extra weight that the men in our industries do not have burdening their shoulders and do it with a lipstick smile, in shiny heels, holding a fashionable handbag in one hand and a laptop case in the other.
I lost count at the number of people who assumed my Start-up partner ran the company and I “helped out”. Or how many jaws dropped when it became known I had college degrees, over a decade of real world experience, and the skills to deliver on my company’s proposals and promises. It was assumed my greatest talents were limited to good people skills and the shrewdness to align myself with smart men who were natural leaders and entrepreneurs. The assumptions were dead wrong, but annoyingly persistent.
To be or not to be…assertive, that is the question we face over and over again, as women in industry. We are constantly aware of the rising of the volume of our voice, the frequency with which we disagree with our team mates and the vigor with which we pursue a diverging opinion. Men get called visionary and difficult; we get labeled domineering and called a bitch. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were branded as innovative and trendsetters. How many women of influence and power do you hear referred to as either? It is often assumed we are hormonal, have problems at home with the kids or family that we are bringing to work or we just don’t know how to make our point diplomatically. When the truth of the matter is, as women we are especially adept at maneuvering social situations. We are bred to operate with a high level of emotional intelligence, ingrained by years of being trained to take everyone else’s feelings and egos into account before making a move. It is just sometimes we need to set that aside and put the work first, put the focus on what we feel and think is best for the company as a whole.
Sometimes we need to be difficult in order to be heard. Sometimes we must discount everyone who is saying it can’t be done in order to be trendsetter, to be a visionary. My advice to you, every woman in business, is that while you must pick your battles, because, let’s face it, nothing amazing is accomplished without help and a support network, it’s ok to be the loud voice in the room when you need to be. It’s acceptable to refuse to compromise when your gut and your business savvy are telling you that you need to stand your ground. And it’s not only fine, but it’s downright necessary, to make yourself heard, even when your opinion is the dissenting view or no one really wants to hear what you think because they assume you are there to take notes and help the boss remember dates and details. And don’t take it personally when people think you’re not adequately feminine because you weren’t born with the fashionista gene or you’re too nice so you must be fake and weak or you’re too pretty so you must not have not earned your position and you are probably not intelligent enough to do it as well as a man would. In fact, do not give those negative assumptions and preconceived notions a moment of energy. Just keep working hard and trusting your intuition and letting your integrity and purpose be your guide.
I even go so far as to have fun with the superficial misjudgments. I’m a word nerd in the body of a model who can work 8 straight hours on a computer and then go out and tear up the dance floor all night in heels. Darn right it confuses people. And I’m fine with that because my creative vision and my relentless drive keep my focus on my unique purpose and my integrity and talent speak for themselves. In the end, people can think whatever they choose to, because my work will speak for itself. There will always be judgments, some of them will be unfair and untrue, and some will be deserved (because let’s be honest, we all make mistakes and fall short of our potential and sometimes make poor decisions)—but just keep on, keeping on. Your mistakes lay the ground work for your successes. So remember, you are not your mistakes. You are the limitless potential of your grandest dreams, and you are a learning every day how to better manifest those into reality. So be grateful that you are experiencing setbacks, because they are teaching you how to be the superstar you are on your path to becoming.
Be so great that, like you or not, understand you or not, they can’t ignore you. The day will come when one of your most vigilant detractors will want to work with you. Yes, that person who thought you were too fake, too weak, too unqualified, too cute to be taken seriously, whatever the issue, will send you an email or hand you their business card. The only powers you need to be successful and overcome any obstacle are the willingness to do what needs to be done, the ability to continue believing in yourself, regardless of who else does (or does not) and the burning passion and unfaltering dedication to make your unique contribution in the world.
“There is vitality, a life force, energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your businessto determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
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