6min readCareer 16 May 2019
Let's take a page or two from Serena Williams' playbook, shall we?
As the only female c-suite executive in a male-dominated industry, I was often asked by other women, in rather hushed tones, “How do I deal with the double standard?!" Invariably the phrase “I feel damned if I do, damned if I don't…" had a starring role in their inquiries.
There's no denying how what's happening in the world of business, politics and even in sports highlight the continuing double standard that exists around what behavior is acceptable for and/or required of a woman versus that of a man. In responding to the women who come to me, it's helpful to draw parallels to what was happening in society to anchor in the learning. So let's reflect on an incident that happened just last year at the US Open Women's Tennis Championship.
You remember. The one in which Serena Williams was penalized several points for arguing with the (male) chair umpire and was eventually penalized points that cost her a game. Serena argued that men have said far worse things than she did without being penalized as much.
Many debated: if Serena were a man standing on the court would there have even been an issue? How pervasive is the double standard in sports, business, and everyday interactions, especially when it comes to how men and women communicate during unpleasant confrontations?
Very pervasive still, unfortunately. It only takes watching a professional football game on Sunday to see it. The male athlete who's in the ref's face over what he perceives to be a bad call while society proudly hollers along with him, commending him for having “passion!"
But when a woman takes a stand like that, somehow she's viewed as having “poor sportsmanship" or considered to behave badly “…for a woman…"
I call it the double bind because so often a woman is damned if you do and damned if you don't. Passionately argue your point? You're labeled as too aggressive or the proverbial bitch. Sink back quietly and say nothing? You're considered weak.
And unfortunately such double standards extend beyond the sports court; they still exist in the boardroom too. I would know. Over the course of my career and as an international C-suite executive and only woman in an all-male team, I've witnessed more than my fair share of this double standard. So have the women I coach.
Two clients are in the thick of this muck right now. Perhaps you can relate? One's been told she's “too much"; the other, that she creates an unwelcoming environment with her assertive style. Like Serena, they've both choked back tears as they describe behavior on a much worse scale by men in their organizations who seemingly can get away with murder.
While we can argue about how such double standards aren't right or fair 'til the cows come home, let's instead focus on the lessons we can take from Serena for how to handle such situations — because they can and will come up. Knowing how to successfully communicate during heated confrontation can make or break your career.
Lesson 1: Serena had a conviction and she spoke up.
Oftentimes women in such situations don't speak up and won't defend themselves because they either don't know what to say or they're overly concerned about what other people will think. When you don't speak up, people will continue being highly argumentative with you, putting you down, making passive aggressive digs, etc., because with your silence comes your permission for them to treat you that way.
It takes courage to use your voice in powerful ways, especially when the stakes are high and something completely out of the blue catches you off guard. The best way to speak up in such moments is to learn how to have a fierce conversation well in advance. The resource I recommend to all my clients is the book called just that: Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott. The section on handling strong emotions on both sides of the table is gold!
Lesson 2: Serena regained her composure and her graciousness quickly.
Heated debate and disagreements are going to happen. How you handle them in the moment matters, but what you do after the moment oftentimes matters more because that's what people remember. It's about knowing how to say the tough stuff (lesson 1) without remaining in a funk for days on end after, because if you stay angry and bitter folks will run the other way in avoidance.
And avoidance is the corporate plague that'll kill off any chance of respect, influence, promotion or success you've dreamed about.
So how do you regain your composure and grace quickly?
First, breathe! It's an age-old solution because it works!
Second, don't take things personally. Someone else's behavior is usually all about them, not you. To regain your composure and grace it really helps to look at things as removed from the core of who you are. This isn't about being in denial or pretending that something wrong didn't happen. It's about disassociating the other person's venomous actions or words from your self-worth.
Lesson 3. Serena's not going to let that one situation keep her down.
The level of resilience needed to be a professional, driven woman in business today is significant and requires that you:
Are confident in who you are, having an inner strength that allows you to dig deep and stay centered when the world is swirling around you.
Know that business is a marathon, not a sprint—so be mindful of your own pace.
Don't try doing it all alone.
That last bullet point is especially important. Having a mentor who can help you navigate these choppy waters is essential.
And I'm not talking about your mama, your boo or your best friend at work! We love them but they are not in a position to give you objective advice. Your mom just wants to console you, your boo is likely concerned with protecting you, and your girlfriend is there to commiserate with you. None of that is actually going to help propel you forward in what you need to do to confidently handle the double bind at work.
It's vital you have someone objective in your corner, ideally, someone who is at least two pay grades above you, who has been around the block and can really guide you on how to finesse these situations when they come up.
Know that success in handling confrontation at work and in life is like a muscle: it needs time and practice to get stronger. Do not beat yourself up if your words come out a little jumbled at first. With practice and leveraging the tips I've shared here, you will grow in your ability to advocate for yourself and others. And when you do, others take note. You gain more standing and respect. And your own inner-confidence grows and shines a light for others to follow.
From Your Site Articles
Related Articles Around the Web
It isn't always easy to stay on top of your finances, especially when you have developed unhealthy spending habits over the years. However, as you begin to realize the many benefits of having healthy finances, it can become something you want to make a conscious effort to improve. When your finances are in a good place, you often have access to better opportunities whether it be a mortgage loan, greater credit line or business loan. On that note, here is how you can become an expert at managing your finances in case you need a few tips.
Learn to Use Technology
The good thing about managing finances in the technological age is that you don't have to do it alone. There are so many apps available that will help you pay bills on time and track your expenses. For instance, some apps force you to live within your actual income and tell you what to do when you need to balance your budget.
If you need an app that will help you get better at saving, then some will set aside your spare change for you. Also, don't be afraid to use more simple tools such as your smartphone calendar to set reminders about payments if you don't automate them.
Seek Legal Advice
Sometimes, being an expert at something means understanding that you can't possibly know it all. This is why you have professionals around you that can help fill in the gaps where you're lacking. Consider hiring a legal firm to help with any challenges that are beyond you. Lexington Law is a good firm as they could help remove negative items from your credit report. Read this Lexington Law Review (Our #1 Credit Repair Service of 2019) to find out more about how they could help improve your finances.
You can't do better than what you know when it comes to managing finances. You should, therefore, invest your time in learning more about finances and how to manage them. Think about what your goals for your finances are and what knowledge gaps you need to fill.
For example, if you want to invest in the stock market so that you can improve your net worth, then you may need to learn more about investing to do so successfully. To boost your knowledge, try reading articles on credible blogs that share finance information from professionals. Also, be weary of content from finance-driven companies as it could be biased.
Work on Growing Your Income
As a self-proclaimed finance guru, you know that the more sources of income that you have, the better. Work on increasing your streams of income so that you have more money to meet your targets whether it's to save for a property or put larger sums towards retirement. One way to do so would be by getting extra income by doing social media marketing for businesses or creating tutorials on YouTube. If you own a property, renting out rooms is a great way to make passive income.
Live Within Your Means
It can be difficult to live within your means when you live in a society that is always presenting you with things to buy. However, being more conscious about the things that you purchase could help you realize that most are wants rather than needs. To live within your means, always take time to think about a purchase as opposed to impulse spending. You should always get good at bargain hunting as many times you can find items of similar quality at a cheaper price.
Learn How to Manage Debt
Debt doesn't have to be a bad thing if you understand how it works and how to manage it. It can be a tool for credit building when you understand the fundamentals. For instance, if you take out a loan or credit card, always be mindful of your interest rates.
By paying the amount of money you borrowed back in full before the due date, you won't have to pay interest on what you borrowed. If you can't pay back in full, paying more than the minimum payment will ensure you incur less interest. For the most part, the secret to good debt management is never spending more than you can afford to pay back.
Managing finances is a life skill that can help improve your quality of life. By following the mentioned tips and taking your finances more seriously, you're more likely to master the art of healthy finances.