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.
Eboni K. Williams and Cheslie Kryst have a lot in common, as Iman Oubou Founder & CEO of SWAAY as well as host of the Women Who Swaay podcast puts it, "They're both badass attorneys, they're both from North Carolina and they've both competed in the Miss North Carolina USA pageants." And they also both took over our podcast on the most recent episode, straight from the headquarters of the Miss Universe Organization!
Cheslie is a successful licensed attorney who also happens to be the reigning Miss USA 2019, with plans to represent our country in the upcoming Miss Universe competition. Not only is she at the height of her pageant power, but she is using the notoriety to create positive change for all of the women in her life, much like her role model Eboni K. Williams. Williams is a journalist, author, attorney and speaker; from her long history as a pageant queen she has risen through the ranks of male dominated industries from law-firms to Fox News. All throughout her journey she has persevered with intelligence, tenacity and poise. Lucky enough for us, she has kindly put her reporting skills to use and got candid with Ms. Kryst about supporting their fellow women, the current state of race in America and their history together as pageant compatriots. All of these topics are incredibly close to their hearts as powerful black women using their influence to create a better future for all women in America.
Oh and, as previously stated, both are complete and utter badasses.
During their podcast takeover they talked about it all, from pageants to politics. It's clear that both of these women are motivated by an altruistic spirit and are strong supporters of #womensupportingwomen. Eboni even read a passage from her book, Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance, and Success, in which she outlines how her own career trajectory was so positively affected by the incredible women who mentored her in different stages of her life. She completely shuts down the idea of the "woman on woman teardown," calling it a "pitiful dynamic" tied to the "long and very hurtful history of women." This idea that in order to compete for a spot in the old boy's club, women must first fight off their own gender is not only reductive but it also supports an outdated social structure that was built to greatly favor male success. Throughout history women have been encouraged to look at one another as competition, one more obstacle to pass by. However, all that has managed to do is to pit us against each other, fighting for the few meager seats at the table allowed for women while we ignore the real problem. The problem isn't about the lack of seats allotted for women; the problem is that men are still the ones making the seating arrangements, and it's time for that to change, something that both Cheslie and Eboni understand well.
Race is another topic that is incredibly important to both of these women, and they have quite the in-depth discussion on it during this podcast. Cheslie, who is biracial and self-identifies as black, laid out her point of view on race. She voiced her frustrations for never feeling like she had her own box to tick, being stuck to decide between "black, white, or other" in standardized situations like the SATs. Existing as someone stuck between two cultures has been incredibly challenging, and though she found some solace in the black community, she felt less welcomed by her white peers. Self-identifying as black is something that has allowed her more agency in regards to her own identity, and though she still faces difficulties she realizes how important it is to be a confident black woman in the esteemed position she is currently in. Both Cheslie and Eboni seem to bond over the idea that no matter the successes, they both revel in the victories of their fellow women of color. Each of them is motivated to see more women of color in powerful, visible positions to inspire future generations. It's not about their own success; it's about respect and renown for any and all women of color.
I may have just provided the highlight reel, but the full conversation shared between Cheslie and Eboni on the Women Who Swaay podcast is a must listen. These two women managed to make me laugh while restoring hope for a better America all within a half hour of listening time! Seriously, go get those headphones, right now. You will not regret it.