"I think you need to stop being so difficult and just let this go," the senior leader said exasperated, handing my sheets back to me. He was annoyed. I took my sheets back and walked out. It was a battle I wasn't about to win.
Those sheets outlined my compelling case for delaying the launch my team had been leading. The proposition wasn't differentiated. The media plan was underfunded. The estimates from sales teams were coming in lower than expected. My persistence, my persuasive business case, and my passion, all pointed in only one direction: that I was being difficult.
Would you ever tell a man he was being too difficult? Too emotional? Too aggressive?
In the end, the launch was never delayed. It went on as scheduled and underperformed terribly. The items were delisted within six months. And we never talked about that launch again. It was as if it had never happened.
And all along I wondered: how could I have been less difficult?
Today's Women's Equality Day. We celebrate this day to commemorate the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920, granting "women" the right to vote; women of color were granted the right to vote much later. Women's Equality Day has become more than about the right to vote; it has become a cultural moment to celebrate all of the progress we have made when it comes to gender equality, including in the workplace.
Before you decide to post on socials, celebrate, and acknowledge the importance of today, stop and ask yourself the following. How are you advancing gender equity in the workplace? What biases do we have about women leaders in the workplace? Do we give women the same feedback, coaching, and direction as we give men?
Here are 11 things many of us have heard over the course of our careers (and I wish there was the space for more):
1. Please don't ask me to smile more. "What's wrong? Why aren't you smiling? You should smile more; you have a beautiful smile."
It makes people uncomfortable when I don't smile, they need to see me happy. And if I am having a bad day? Slap on some lipstick and smile. Say Cheese for my colleagues over the webcam.
2. Please don't tell me I need to be more collaborative. "Think about your approach and how you interact with the team. Yes, you are the leader, and you need to make an effort to share your toys in the sandbox."
Last month, I was told I wasn't authoritative enough; I was overly collaborative. It was hard to figure out what I owned and what my achievements were vs others. And now it's time to dial back, to focus on the "we" vs. the "I" again.
3. Please don't ask me how I do it all. "My wife stays at home to watch our kids. I can't imagine how you do it all. Must be exhausting!"
Funny, no one ever asks my husband that question.
4. Please don't tell me I am being overconfident. "Listen, we know you are a top performer. You don't need to remind us; be humbler."
Ah, I see. Now I understand. When I ask to be paid more, when I ask for that promotion, or when I ask for more equity, that's when I am being overconfident.
5. Please don't ask me why I look so tired. "You look really tired. Is everything ok? I mean, you look really tired."
My toddler was up all night with a stomachache. And I had to finish this deck for today's presentation. And my husband is traveling for work. And I didn't have time to put on makeup.
6. Please don't tell me I am being aggressive. "I would watch your tone and how you challenge others in meetings. Some of your colleagues are very put off."
You said I was being too quiet. So, I started to express my views more in meetings which is now offending the men in the room.
7. Please don't tell me I am too quiet. "You didn't participate in the last few meetings; we really need to hear your thoughts and for you to have a voice at the table."
You said I was being too aggressive. So, I decided to stop talking.
8. Please don't tell me I am "too in the weeds." "I need you to see the forest from the trees, to see the big picture. To be more strategic. Make some time for 'big' thinking."
Did you forget you asked me to take the minutes at our team meetings, to organize the leadership offsite, and to ensure we have a weekly virtual happy hour? And order those cocktail kits for the team? Yes, they will be there by Thursday.
9. Please don't ask me who will watch my kids if I take that traveling assignment. "Your kids are so young. You really don't want to be traveling. It's a big role, so I don't advise you to take it."
Did you give that same advice to the man who is applying who has 3-year-old twins?
10. Please don't tell me I am being too emotional. "I would just watch your emotions and how you tend to react to things. Remember, we are running a business here."
I'll never forget what happened when one of the men leaders cried in a large meeting. He was our new work hero. He was empathetic and in touch with his emotions. He was a man of the people.
And finally, please don't tell me I am being difficult. When I am trying to state my view, to make a point, to provide a different perspective. With passion and conviction. Because I am trying to convince you that what I have to say matters. You should listen to me and be open to changing your point of view. Because that's why I thought you hired me, to think big and challenge the status quo.
Ask yourself this final question:
Would you provide any of this advice or coaching to the men you work with, to the men in your life? If the answer is no, then why are we asking, coaching, and advising women this way?
Would you ever tell a man he was being too difficult? Too emotional? Too aggressive?
I am sure there are some men who have been given some of the above feedback, but the unconscious bias women face is systemic and disproportionately impacts their careers. If you don't believe the statistics, then take the time to ask the women you know in your life. Ask them and listen to their stories. Be prepared for women to tell you things you didn't expect to hear.
And if you don't have any trusting relationships with women at work, maybe it's time to change that. Today is Women's Equality Day, after all. It's a great day to start.
- Dear Corporate America: You Are Enforcing The Gender Divide ... ›
- As A Black Woman I Need You To Know: Don't Feel Sorry For Me ... ›
"More grapes, please," my daughter asked, as she continued to color her Peppa Pig drawing at the kitchen table.
"What do you say?" I asked her, as I was about to hand her the bowl.
I shook my head.
I stood there.
"I want green grapes instead of red grapes?"
I shook my head again. I handed her the bowl of green grapes. "Thank you. Please don't forget to say thank you."
"Thank you, Momma!"
Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children?
Many of us are busy training our young children on manners on the other side of the Zoom camera during this pandemic. Reminding them to say please, excuse me, I tried it and it's not my favorite, I am sorry, and thank you. And yet somehow simple manners continue to be undervalued and underappreciated in our workplaces. Because who has time to say thank you?
"Call me. This needs to be completed in the next hour."
"They didn't like the deck. Needs to be redone."
"When are you planning on sending the proposal?"
"Did you see the questions he asked? Where are the responses?"
"Needs to be done by Monday."
Let me take a look. I didn't see a please. No please. Let me re-read it again. Nope, no thank you either. Sure, I'll get to that right away. Oh yes, you're welcome.
Organizations are under enormous pressure in this pandemic. Therefore, leaders are under enormous pressure. Business models collapsing, budget cuts, layoffs, or scrapping plans… Companies are trying to pivot as quickly as possible—afraid of extinction. With employees and leaders everywhere teaching and parenting at home, taking care of elderly parents, or maybe even living alone with little social interaction, more and more of us are dealing with all forms of grief, including losing loved ones to COVID-19.
So we could argue we just don't have time to say thank you; we don't have time to express gratitude. There's too much happening in the world to be grateful for anything. We are all living day to day, the pendulum for us swinging between surviving and thriving. But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?
If you don't think you have to say thank you; if you don't think they deserve a thank you (it's their job, it's what they get paid to do); or if you think, "Why should I say thank you, no one ever thanks me for anything?" It's time to remember that while we might be living through one of the worst recessions of our lifetimes, the market will turn again. Jobs will open up, and those who don't feel recognized or valued will be the first to go. Those who don't feel appreciated and respected will make the easy decision to work for leaders who show gratitude.
But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?
Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children? Remind them with flashcards? Bribe them with a cookie? Tell them how I proud I am of them when they say those two magical words?
Showing gratitude isn't that difficult. You can send a thoughtful email or a text, send a handwritten card, send something small as a gesture of thank you, or just tell them. Call them and tell them how thankful you are for them and for their contributions. Just say thank you.
A coworker recently mailed me a thank you card, saying how much she appreciated me. It was one of the nicest things anyone from work has sent me during this pandemic. It was another reminder for me of how much we underestimate the power of a thank you card.
Apparently, quarantine gratitude journals are all the rage right now. So it's great if you have a beautiful, leather-bound gratitude journal. You can write down all of the people and the things that you are thankful for in your life. Apparently, it helps you sleep better, helps you stay grounded, and makes you in general happier. Just don't forget to take a moment to stop writing in that journal, and to show thanks and gratitude to those you are working with every single day.