As a woman who works in the technology industry, you can imagine that I've found myself outnumbered in my fair share of board rooms. Often I've received questions of how I've responded to the lack of respect that comes with being the only female in the room. However, I've simply never thought anything of the difference in gender. For me, everything is based on performance.
From the start of my career I rooted myself in confidence that transcended my outward differences that were obvious amongst those of us in the boardroom. Don't get me wrong, nothing was handed to me at any point in my career. It was simply instilled in me to work relentlessly for whatever I wanted.
In most industries women are severely outnumbered, but that doesn't mean we bow out of the competition. Rather, we take charge of the conversation and spur impactful necessary dialogues without fear. As a woman who finds herself outnumbered in the leadership levels of business, I have to take charge and lead with bold honest confidence. This requires having respectful conversations within the workplace.
Taking part in issues that are pivotal and essential for women today is our responsibility as leaders in the workplace. As women, we need not be afraid of backlash that could come as a result of differences of opinion. The key, in fact, is to not be afraid. If what you're discussing and fighting for as a woman for women is something you believe to be right, fight for it.
Taking part in issues that are pivotal and essential for women today is our responsibility as leaders in the workplace.
It's even more essential now than ever to take part in conversations within our world. Whether those conversations are rooted within the boardroom or transcend themselves to the media, we are essential players in the success and history of our communities. If you happen to be the only woman in a male dominated workplace, you've accomplished a significant achievement. You now have a responsibility to lead by example. Your leadership should be a reflection of the issues you hold dear, thus your narrative needs to be heard.
In an era that continues to evolve, being honest and bold in the face of such change is essential. Simply because the media shows a male driven narrative, doesn't mean that as women we have anything less to offer. Owning the conversation is imperative, don't sell yourself short on the basis of something as basic as your gender. I feel that I've thrived in the workplace because I've always been authentic and unafraid of any hard work. Hard work is where the fun is, after all. Most importantly, owning our own voices is our responsibility.
When taking part in conversations in the boardroom or in the media, learn to disagree with tact. To receive respect comes by first giving respect. The best leaders and employees alike are those that can be nice to people, regardless of differences. This does not mean that you have to be friends with everyone, but you should start from a platform of respect. Along with such is the importance to encourage others in the workplace to express their opinions. Again, as a woman in a leadership role you're a direct example for men and women in your business. Encouraging other women through your actions is another form of expression.
Courtesy Of Rhonda Vetere, photographed by Studio 5600
The big takeaway is that regardless of what field of work you're thriving in, or what worldly situation you're amongst, you have not only the right but the distinct responsibility to take part in discussions that affect you as a person. Separate the gender stereotypes from your identity, and act simply as a human that has a desire to be involved in the decisions that directly impact you. Women need to be bold and let me reiterate, unafraid as they conduct themselves in the world. Live your life with bone deep confidence that radiates outwards. Your eagerness to join discussions in and out of the workplace only further demonstrate your unapologetic authentic self.
To be a successful woman in any avenue dominated by men, you have to carry an attitude lacking fear and soaked in confidence. Being prepared for anything eliminates the need for fear. Try your hardest to place as little emphasis as possible on the difference in gender between you and your co-workers. You're all professionals trying your hardest to perform your best daily. Your gender doesn't affect your ability to think, create, or excel in any way at all. If anything, you're better for the tenacity that we as women have built within us. Remember, keep the fire in your belly and keep your focus on results not gender.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.