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I Was Told I Was Too "Agreeable" To Ever Be A Leader

#SWAAYthenarrative

Kathleen Pagan, 34


CEO & Creative Director, Endlessly Elated

Having jumped from corporate finance to lifestyle blogging, Kathleen Pagan knows a thing or two about building your own empire. With the goal of encouraging equality and helping women in the workplace achieve whatever they set their minds to, Pagan has launched an initiative called “The Fem Think Tank,” which allows women to come together and share their career ups and downs to learn for each other how to face them head on. “Don’t let the beliefs of others define you,” says Pagan. “We are strong women and we will always prevail.

1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?

I started my company after my dad’s passing in 2012, which was a defining moment, to say the least. It was the first time in my life that I stopped ‘doing’ and starting ‘questioning.’ My dad passed away at the age of 62 so for me it became a period of “am I?” I began to ask “am I doing what I want in life? Am I living to my fullest potential?” In search, I realized that although I was blessed with a supportive family, great friends, and an amazing boyfriend (then turned husband) something didn’t feel right. I felt like I wasn’t doing my life’s work. So, just weeks after my dad’s passing, I founded Endlessly Elated (a name I chose to ensure it was a daily reminder to live a fulfilled life) and the rest is history.

I’d say my greatest achievement came the day I decided that those three little words “believe in yourself” weren’t going to be words, but rather actions I lived by. It took me a long time to believe that I could do and be whatever I wanted to. I lived my whole life subconsciously putting limitations on myself, not because of the naysayers but because of my own preconceived notions. It’s my greatest triumph to have found my purpose and live life on my own terms.

2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?

I was told I was ‘too agreeable’ to ever hold a leadership position let alone be a CEO.

3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?

The biggest stereotype I’ve ever been faced with has been that as a woman in the workplace I need to be ‘bitchy.’ That people need to ‘fear me’ in order for me to be perceived as a suitable leader. A few years back, I sat in an office for a year-end review and was told that due to my lack of leadership qualities or how she verbalized it, “you’re just too nice, Kathleen,” I would deter myself from any career progression and due to this unfortunate fact, I either shaped up or would inevitably get fired. As I played the conversation in my head, I realized that my choices were either to become her or continue to be me. When in doubt, always choose yourself.

Needless to say, I never got fired, I moved onto various other positions, had the most amazing managers and after my recent resignation a beautifully, poised email from my current boss came out stating that although she was so sad to see me go, she was extremely proud of me and was fully supportive of all my endeavors. Now that’s a girl boss!

4. What did you learn through your personal journey?

Simple. I created my own. I wasn’t going to let the opinions of those who wanted to categorize me into the “she’s too nice” or the “she’s not bossy enough” boxes write my narrative. I took a stance to ensure that no one mistaken my kindness for weakness or my “lack of bossiness” for self-confidence. My story is mine and mine only. No one gets to write it but me.

5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Believe it or not, I often think about this question and I always find myself asking the women around me the same thing. Limiting beliefs can come from the least expected places sadly sometimes from the people closest to. Don’t let the beliefs of others define you. Don’t let your circumstances limit you. Don’t let your skin color and ethnicity be a label for who you are. We are strong women and we will always prevail. In the great words of Shonda Rhimes “Not to get all Beyoncé on you, But [we] woke up like this!”

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.