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The Serena Williams Method For Slamming Double Standards

6min read
Career

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 am 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.


This piece was originally published May 15, 2019.

People

How This Twice Bankrupt Founder Built Herself Up To A $240M Net Worth

Nobody knows what it's like to be sh*t out of luck like Suzy Batiz. Maybe that's why her million-dollar idea was a spray to stop your sh*t from stinking.

Yes, this woman is on a mission to keep your bathroom dos (and don'ts) on the DL, and she is doing it all with a hefty dose of personal philosophy and spirituality. It's hard to pick just one place to start with a maverick like Batiz. Though, maverick doesn't quite do her justice.

We could talk about her early life, growing up poor in Arkansas with two parents struggling with addiction and mental health problems. Or we could discuss her two bankruptcies and a lifelong history of failed hustles and side-hustles. Then there's her personal life; she's been divorced twice, has three kids, and is a survivor of abuse. You could say she's been through some sh*t. (Okay, the poop jokes end here, I swear.) If this all sounds too crazy to believe already then you better stop reading now because it gets wilder. This woman is all that and then some.

But, there's no time like the present, so I guess we'll start there.

Suzy Batiz is one of the richest self-made women in America with a net worth of $240 million. She's currently working on uplifting other business owners and creative-thinkers with her personal and professional philosophy of "alive ideas" as well as running her own companies, Supernatural, a 100% natural cleaning product company, and Poo~Pourri, the famous odor-eliminating toilet spray line that started it all with a bang (or a plop). (Okay, now the poop jokes are really done.)

Poo-Pourri's first commercial, which has now garnered almost 50 million views since its release in 2013, absolutely blew away viewers with its hilariously crass yet poetic verbiage surrounding this lovely woman's "cavernous bowels." Even I remember first seeing it almost seven years ago. Though I wasn't even sure if it was a real product at first. I was so busy laughing that I almost missed the line: "Yes, it is a real product. And yes, it really works." No one but Batiz could have thought up an idea so new, so wild, and at the same time so deeply necessary for people everywhere. It seems that poop is the market's natural equalizer.

(Seriously though, how good is this commercial?)

She's reached some of the highest peaks of success when it comes to consumer goods, but Batiz's newest venture asks people to turn inward and evaluate their thoughts and personal processes to support a culture of deeply conscious creation. Alive Ideas represents all of the lessons in both entrepreneurship and spirituality that Batiz has learned firsthand. Because, for her, the entrepreneurial and the spiritual are often one and the same. In her own words:

"Your external reality is just a reflection of your internal reality, so you have to do your personal work to shift from the inside out."

She takes this marriage of philosophies very seriously and infuses it into every level of her business, offering her employees training in transcendental meditation (a non-negotiable daily activity for Batiz) and Headspace app subscriptions. Batiz knows that good work has to start from the inside out, and that's why she's so keen to share this philosophy with the world and help other people realize that, too. That's what this new enterprise is all about.

Alive ideas are those twinges of inspiration that you can feel in every inch of your being — the ones that are just bursting to take shape in the world. Take Poo-Pourri as a perfect example, it was something that no one could have expected. A product that needed to exist, but a need that had never before been conceptualized (let alone actualized) by anybody. Until Batiz, that is.

Suzy Batiz

She's always been a "natural creator," so it's only natural that her current state of being revolves around bringing to life new ideas and products. But even that could only have come about through what she describes as the "luxury of losing everything."

It took 38 years and a lifetime of both personal and professional hardships before Batiz was ready to call it quits. After all the hustles, there was just no hustle left in her.

So she took a four-year spiritual sabbatical, during which she realized that she'd spent her entire life thus far "selling out" and "making deals" for all the wrong reasons. "Basically, I'd lost it all and didn't even have a good time doing it!" That was what really set her off. "It was only when I changed my mindset to only follow ideas that lit me up that the real success started flowing." There's those alive idea's she's talking about!

Suzy Batiz is the antithesis of your stereotypical entrepreneur. She wears flowing skirts, makes poop jokes, and has the vibe of a fun-loving guru. She basically spent her entire life trying (and failing) to find success through financial means, only to lose everything and then some. It took hitting rock bottom to realize that she needed to start fresh. It was only once she'd chucked all of the typical toxic motivators out the window that her real genius could shine through all the bullsh*t.

Full Interview Transcript

1. How would you describe your climb from growing up, to bankruptcy, to millionaire? And how does it feel to have come so far?

I grew up in Arkansas very poor, with a mother that was depressed on pain pills and a father that was a bipolar alcoholic. From an early age, I had the impression that money was my way out. If I could just make money, I would be somebody and I would mean something in the world.

By the time I was 22, I'd already been married, bankrupt (for the first time), divorced and attempted suicide. Shortly after that, I met and married a wealthy man who turned out to be abusive. I clawed my way out of that terrible situation to find myself divorced again and homeless with two boys under the age of 2. I continued to work multiple jobs and soon met my ex-husband of 26 years. He was a drummer who didn't have much to offer aside from his love at the time, which sounded like a dream after the last situation I was in. I constantly hustled and side hustled, but all my business ventures typically ended in failure. At 38 years old, I lost funding for a dot com recruiting platform that I'd invested our life savings into, leading to my second bankruptcy and what I call "the luxury of losing everything".

I vowed to leave business behind entirely and went on a four-year spiritual sabbatical. I looked back and realized that I'd spent my whole life husting, selling out and making deals that felt wrong in order to get something I thought I wanted. Basically, I'd lost it all and didn't even have a good time doing it! This is when everything changed for me. It was only when I changed my mindset to only follow ideas that lit me up that the real success started flowing. I was no longer living for external validation, but rather from the inside out. Ironically, it was once I'd sworn off business and chasing money that my success and wealth came.

2. You seem to be innately entrepreneurial person, was there any moment or experience in your life that made you really think: "This is what I have to do."

I've always been a natural creator. Growing up we had very little, so if I wanted a new outfit for my Barbie, I'd sew it myself. I've always had that spirit in me — but at one point I actually believed I was the worst entrepreneur in the world. I had more than a dozen failed businesses and two bankruptcies by the time I was 38, so I swore off business altogether. It wasn't until I realized chasing money and success wasn't making me happy and I did my internal work that Poo~Pourri was born.

A few years later, a friend of mine was interviewing and asked how I knew which ideas to follow — how could I tell which ones would turn out to be successful? The question piqued my interest. I realized it had nothing to do with the analytical or rational reasons a business should succeed. Rather, I remembered the feeling in my body when I first got the idea for Poo~Pourri. I felt a zing up my left arm, I got chill bumps, it felt like everything went into hi-def and I had so much energy to research and create because the idea wouldn't leave me alone. My curiosity continued and I had a conversation with Dr. Bruce Lipton to ask him a burning question: Can ideas be alive? His answer, in short, was: absolutely! He said that everything, including thoughts and ideas, has energy, and "every living thing is seeking more life-force energy." This was my aha moment. When I focused on ideas that gave me energy, that felt ALIVE, they turned out to be more resilient and successful. I followed the breadcrumbs of what made me feel alive and it's led me to here — what a wild ride!

3. What drives you to keep moving forward in life and in business after all the success you've attained thus far?

My ultimate goal is to reach my highest evolution in this lifetime. I strive to be lit up daily in my personal and business life and follow only things that resonate (though it's a practice and I misstep all the time). I love bringing alive ideas into physical form, and my businesses are those manifestations. I truly believe that I was lucky enough to have the luxury of losing everything. I know that at any time I can lose it all, and if that happens, I want to make sure I can look back and know I had a damn good time.

4. A lot of people feel that there is a big disconnect between capitalism and spiritually, but you seem to have found a sweet spot for both yourself and your business ventures. How closely intertwined is your spirituality with your entrepreneurial ventures? And why?

I don't think of things as being a part of my work life or a part of my personal spiritual life. It's all the same for me. Your external reality is just a reflection of your internal reality, so you have to do your personal work to shift from the inside out. Daily transcendental meditation is my number-one non-negotiable. Starting my day with space to clear out the noise of the outside world has been just as essential for my business as it has for my personal wellness. I share this gift with Poo~Pourri employees as well by offering TM training and Headspace app subscriptions and providing only healthy fuel and snacks in the office so we are all operating at optimal levels.

I also believe that there's nothing wrong with wanting money and success. Who wouldn't? But where I've found the most impact is in my actions. If I'm doing something or chasing an idea only to get money, it doesn't come. When I do my internal work and follow what's resonant because it feels good within my being, wouldn't you know that's when the money flows.

5. If you could go back in time and tell your younger self that you'd one day be one of America's richest self-made women by way of selling poop products, how do you think you'd react?

I'd lose my shit and probably laugh in your face because it would be so far beyond what I could have imagined. When I was little, I had the dream of working in a factory or at the post office because those were steady and consistent jobs. I wouldn't have ever even known to dream of being the one to finally break a pattern of generational poverty.

Breaking these types of patterns, the ones that are outdated and no longer serve us, is a huge passion of mine. I've got the world comfortable talking about shit, now what else can we get people to talk about?