Career 18 January 2017
I am frequently asked to share advice with young women who are seeking careers or seeking to advance in careers in business. Quite often these requests for advice involve careers and businesses that have traditionally been considered “male dominated.”
I share two thoughts, the first of which is no different than that which I share with young men: work hard – work really, really hard – work as hard as you can – and when you don’t believe you can work any harder, work harder. Hard work matters.
After I share that gender neutral thought, I share this thought: stop thinking about the fact that you’re a woman.
For as long as I can remember – certainly, dating back to my teenage years – it has been my view that if a woman doesn’t want others to think about her gender, it makes no sense whatsoever for her to think about her gender. If a woman wants to be considered and treated without regard to gender, she should comport herself without regard to gender. If a woman wants her gender to be irrelevant, she shouldn’t consider it or make it relevant.
At no time during my career did I walk into any setting – not an NFL owners’ meeting, not a meeting with Raiders owners, not a football operations meeting, not a meeting with coaches, business associates or others - thinking about my gender.
It is nonsensical for me to hope and expect that those with whom I interact will interact with me without regard to gender if I am thinking about my gender.
I am also frequently asked if I believe I was tested because I was a woman. I never thought or worried about that. But let’s say I was. People are tested for different reasons. What’s the best thing one can do when one is tested? Pass the test.
I am also frequently asked if I experienced gender based resistance during my career. I certainly experienced resistance. Was some of that resistance gender based? Let’s say it was. Would I have done anything differently if I stopped to consider that it might be? No. I wouldn't have conducted myself or done anything differently. I did my job.
I comported myself without regard to gender and I didn't waste any time or expend any effort or energy worrying about my gender or whether anyone was bothered by it. If others wanted to waste their time or expend their effort or energy worrying about my gender, fine, better they than I.
Related to this, I don’t believe that women must – or should – support other women simply because they are women. To do so is not consistent with a gender blind approach. Over the course of my career, I received support from both women and men and I offered my support and to both women and men. I support women when support is warranted and I support men when support is warranted. I don’t believe it is fair for me to consider gender when interacting with others if I don’t want others to consider gender when interacting with me. If we want men to treat us without regard to gender then it is only logical and right for us to treat men without regard to gender. After all, gender blind is gender blind.
I’ve discussed these issues with a number of accomplished women for whom I have tremendous respect. I have observed that those women with whom I have discussed this who are roughly my age – certainly of my generation – agree that it is counterintuitive to think about one’s gender while hoping and expecting others will not. I have also observed that those women with whom I have discussed this who are younger than I strongly disagree with my views that women in business should conduct themselves without regard to gender.
Many of these same women also strongly disagree with my views that women in business are not obliged to support other women simply because they are women. As such, I have concluded that it may well be that my views on these topics are generational.
I don’t care that I’m a woman.
I don’t want those with whom I interact professionally to care that I’m a woman. I don’t think about the fact that I’m a woman. I don’t want anyone with whom I interact in business to think about the fact that I’m a woman. I want my gender to be irrelevant and I conduct myself as if my gender is irrelevant. That approach may not work for everyone but it worked for me.
Starting with a little background, I am an anti-bullying advocate and have recently graduated from The Parent Leadership Training Institute, where as part of our studies we were asked to come up with a community project close to our hearts and put it into action. My cause was bullying, and I began a blog and Facebook page to address issues pertaining to all forms of bullying. Implementing this project was followed by a thre- minute speech to my peers, and, after all this, here is what I have learned about bullying.
Bullying makes people feel bad about themselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and even physical symptoms. The repercussions of bullying can cause people to miss school or work as well as countless other negative side effects.
I have been bullied both at school and at work, and I know of others who have suffered the same plight. It is not fun!
My first bullying experience was in seventh grade as a young teen. There was a group of three "mean girls" who harassed me and, I later found out, several of my friends; they thought it was funny to pick on others about their clothes, their looks or whatever else they could come up with (who knows). It felt awful at the time. Supposedly, I was chosen to get picked on because they claimed I bought my clothes at the Goodwill. That wasn't true, but really who cares? Why they were picking on me was never really the point. Luckily, after a while, the meanies went on to the next victim(s) like a never-ending cycle. I tend to think once a bully, always a bully, which goes to show how good a lifestyle that is, because those "mean girls" never amounted to much. In hindsight, I feel sorry for them. Watch the movie The Gift if you're really curious about what happens to bullies when they grow up.
And bullying was not just an issue when I was a teen, since then nothing much has changed. My own nephew was bullied in eighth grade, and he recently talked to me in depth about of how the bullying took a toll on him. Especially because I had the same experience, I could relate to him in ways that some others couldn't. Like reliving my own memories, I was incredibly broken up to hear how it made him feel.
Even worse than that, bullying does not end in the school yard. Employees are being bullied on the job at an alarming rate. When you are bullied on the job as an adult, it taken an even bigger toll. Further it doesn't just go away like those middle school "mean girls." Unless you can quit your job, you might just be stuck. There are all kinds of physical symptoms, stomach pains, migraines and even panic attacks. Beyond the physical, people's mental and emotional state is extremely sensitive to bullying, and as a result work performance might suffer. Furthermore, it might feel like there is no recourse, no one to believe you. You can hope that the HR Department is willing to listen and do something about it, but the whole process can be so disheartening. And in the hierarchical corporate environment, sometimes the bully seems to get ahead and you are left lagging behind in a subservient position. This is what happened to me as a victim of workplace bullying. It started with me being told by a co-worker that my boss was following me to the bathroom, staring down the hall whenever I left my desk to make sure I came right back to my seat. Then it was standing over me as I typed, ordering me to get in a car with them, not allowing me to sit somewhere if it wasn't within their sight. The list of offenses could go on endlessly. There were times I felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, the bully torturing me got a promotion. Like the character of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the classic bully is revered by her peers, despite the fact that all of her employees are terrified of her. Yet, she is in a role of high stature and praised as a bully. We live in a culture that is not only complacent in the existence of bullies, but one that actively allows them to thrive.
It makes you realize how unfair life can be. Of course, no one said that life would be fair; maybe you just assumed that bad people would not get ahead. But, they do. Even now, I cannot help but to shake my head in disbelief. I often wonder what makes a person feel the need to laud their power over another. Are they insecure? Were they bullied themselves? They must feel bad about themselves in some way? Do they feel the need to do this to make themselves look good? Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't nice at all. I have found myself at different times in my life standing up for people who have been bullied around me. And I certainly do not allow anyone to treat me in any way that I find disrespectful. I truly believe in karma, and I tell myself that at some point in time, the bullies will get it back in some way. I have seen it happen, and in the meantime, I just say to myself "What goes around, comes around."
Bullying shows no sign of slowing down, and in this day and age, it's even worse than I have experienced in the past. Cyber bulling, rumors, fist fights, knifes, guns and other forms of both mental and physical cruelty, it truly sickens me. I know that I cannot save everyone, but I try to be an advocate as much as possible and encourage others to do so as well. NO ONE SHOULD BULLIED! It is disgraceful to say the least. You should always practice grace as much as you can. With every person who chooses to do so, the world gets a little bit better. I will be writing more on this topic on a regular basis; I feel it helps to talk about this subject aloud and spread the word. and, if nothing else, be kind.