In honor of March being women’s history month, it seems fitting to write a blog about women in the workplace. This is simply my experience. I would not consider myself a feminist. However, I do notice when I am treated differently because of my gender. I am also learning how to handle those situations with grace and dignity (for the most part).
Last week I was meeting with a candidate who was looking to move here and start working with us. He is an accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon, and is very interested in relocating to do research. As I was telling him about the infrastructure and support our office can provide for his scholarly endeavors, he repeatedly interrupted me to ask my male counterpart questions about what I was describing. My coworker continued to turn the conversation back over to me, but this guy wasn’t having it. Finally, I excused myself for another “meeting” instructing the candidate to follow up with my coworker because they clearly had more in common.
Men aren’t the only ones who dismiss women in the workplace, women are guilty of this behavior as well. I work with some phenomenal, super accomplished women who exhibit this sort of “secondary sexism” (which is the best way I can find to describe it). Secondary sexism for me has been characterized by minimizing my role, gossiping about my appearance, or spreading rumors insinuating that how I got to my job was by sleeping with someone important. I have witnessed these conversations about others too. In trying to understand this puzzling behavior, I attribute it to the potential struggle they went through to get to their positions. Maybe they started as an entry level administrator and worked their way through the ranks to get to where they are. It was probably hard work. Conversely for someone like me to walk in as a senior level director at 37 having only been at the organization for 2 years is a little hard to swallow. Where is my struggle? Why do I get to just walk in and be accepted by this elite group?
Spoiler alert: I don’t, and that’s ok. I have no idea what it was like to get to where they are. But I admire it, and them, for paving the way. I couldn’t be here unless they were there.
A book that changed my behavior as a woman at work is Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. In this book she describes a methodology in how to reinforce yourself both personally and professionally so you can lead effectively. This book also taught me the importance of seeing the women I work with as allies first, because we are better together. So in the spirit of March, let’s stop competing and start collaborating! Women should celebrate each other whenever possible; especially in the workplace. This means shutting down the gossip mill and teaching from that experience instead. It also means listening to each other and showing up for each other when we need it. Most of all it means having the courage to speak up when it counts, not just saying things in the safety of closed rooms. We have such a special comradery, and should leverage that to make real change. I would love to learn about the experiences, fortitude and grit of the women I admire at work. I hope young women will want to learn from me someday too.
Does this resonate with you? Leave a comment so we can talk about it.