When you spend a good portion of your life trying to fit in, as I'm sure most of us probably have, it can be liberating to embrace who you are as an individual and to be comfortable in your own skin.
Embracing what makes you, you are at the heart of the Maxx You Project, which was created with the goal of helping women to embrace what makes them unique. The project includes a series of interactive activities that are appearing at various pop-up locations around the US, a qualitative research study to identify the barriers and levers that stand between women embracing what makes them stand out, and an advisory panel with female powerhouses Laila Ali and Barbara Corcoran, as well as Professor of Psychology at UC Berkley Dr. Serena Chen, who will guide the initiative every step of the way.
“The Maxx You Project is about helping people to find their inner light, helping women find what is particularly strong in them, and also inspiring women to be better than they are right now," says Corcoran.
Corcoran told SWAAY about the mission of the project. Her involvement started when she led a workshop of 80 women on self-esteem, confidence, and embracing your individuality, where she felt that both she and T.J.Maxx were “able to make a difference in their lives." This led to the second stage of the Maxx You Project, which entails a national research expedition that will study the principles of individuality, specifically focusing on the barriers to access that many women face in expressing their unique selves. “To help women let their individuality shine, we want to bring them in to co-create the future of the Maxx You Project. So we're talking to women of all ages, across the country to investigate this complex topic," Jillian Rugani, Manager of Marketing at T.J.Maxx, said in a press release about the project.
In a world filled with trends and obsessed with fitting in, it might seem impossible to confidently embrace who you are as an individual- especially as women. Corcoran agreed that many young women experience external pressure to accept norms and quiet their individual voices, but realized at a young age that the price for playing the game was too big to pay. “I realized fitting in was too costly...the minute I let that peer pressure and the sizing up pressure go, I felt like I got twice as strong," she told me.
If you know anything about Barbara Corcoran, you know that many would call her a fierce, unapologetic, real-estate powerhouse, as she built a billion-dollar business with a $1000 loan. You probably know her best from the no-nonsense, yet caring, approach she takes with entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, a persona that she has never shied away from. With that, comes a sense of authenticity that Corcoran conveys not only on the TV screen but also when speaking to her, one on one.
Photo Courtesy of Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images
“When I was selling real estate, really the only real estate I could sell was something I really believed in, which made me lose a lot of sales," she says. “But, as a result of that, I built a long stream of people who trusted me." I could feel her strong sense of authenticity when it came to her involvement with this project, which she explained was derived from her ability to inspire young women. “With the Maxx You Project, when I heard exactly what it was about and who it's target audience was - to help young women find out more about who they are - I felt like that's exactly what I do all the time- that's not a stretch!"
Certainly not, as she has made it a point throughout her career to speak to and inspire fellow women who want to make a name for themselves as entrepreneurs.
Corcoran reflected on what makes her an individual and how she's found that the more she's embraced what makes her, her, the more she's been embraced by others. For her, this is her sense of directness, her no-nonsense attitude, that makes her stand out.
The pillar principle of the Maxx You Project is letting women embrace who they are and what makes them unique. Since the goal is to inspire women to embrace the infinite possibilities of who and what they can be, I wondered how Corcoran saw this mission as relating to women in the workplace, specifically female entrepreneurs. She emphasized that individuality is important to succeeding in any career - especially when you're working to guide a team into your vision as a business owner. “Embracing your individuality will make you pick out the right people to surround yourself with, since they have to match that and be complementary in some way," she advises. “If you embrace your individuality in the workplace, people know who you are and you build teams around you without even trying."
“The more direct I am and the more that I am genuinely myself, the better people respond to me, I have found. If I just cut to the chase, people accept it and they're willing to play with me," she reflects on her experience. As far as embracing your individuality goes, she says that being yourself leads to others trusting you (given they can smell BS a mile away).
“I think all of us are smarter than we think, you can sense when someone's ingenious, you can sense when someone has a hidden agenda, you can feel a politician a mile away and all of those buttons go off in your head. I think if you're truly okay with who you are, good and bad and let it shine...I generally find that people come from the party," Corcoran says.
With that, she is frustrated by the trend she sees of women feeling that they have to earn the ability to be themselves, conforming at all cost until they reach a certain level where individuality somehow becomes acceptable.
"I don't get it, because all of the people who succeeded in my business that were promoted were strong individuals who knew who they were and attracted other people because of it. So, I don't see any upside at all to not embracing your individuality as early as you can," says Corcoran. She brings this point back to why she's so passionate about being involved in the Maxx You Project, since women are being given such a large and inclusive platform to embrace who they are. "That's why this project is important because it gets that messaging out," she says thoughtfully.
Photo Courtesy of Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images
Staying true to yourself both as a woman and an individual will allow you to reach your fullest potential and live your life the most authentically possible, which the Maxx You Project is out to prove. Stay tuned for the culmination of their national quantitative study, which Dr. Chen told me is expected to be completed by the end of November, which will give us access to even more insight about how we can empower ourselves, and women everywhere, to embrace who they are as individuals.
The next time you're afraid of being different, sticking out, or thinking too outside-the-box, ask yourself WWBD (What Would Barbara Do?) and let your individuality shine.
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.