Have you ever:
- Been told that as a woman, you have to pick between being a good employee or a good wife/mom and that you can’t have it all?
- Encountered people trying to find out your marital status or dating preferences before trying to learn about your professional background and experience?
- Heard a woman described with an unpleasant name for standing her ground whereas men are described as strong and confident for similar behavior?
- Been asked to replace your “soft skills” from your resume?
- Stated an idea that was ignored…only for the idea to be restated by another gentleman in the room before it was accepted?
- Witnessed male corporate leaders soliciting updates from male coworkers even when someone else is the clear subject matter expert?
- Seen women overcompensate to be taken “seriously” in a man’s world?
- Noticed other women gossiping about a woman that made the mistake of being “too” ambitious?
- Experienced the need to work extra hard to be “heard”, meanwhile, certain male counterparts have a presence when they talk and everyone listens?
I’m not saying that this is every woman’s story, but let’s face it sis, the chips are certainly stacked against us. We deal with cultural bias, stereotypes, preconceived judgements whether they are conscious or subconscious, even before we walk into the room. Depending on where you are, this may happen more or less often, but it happens nonetheless. As an Indian woman, I am judged even before I have a conversation with someone based on a number of factors such as my gender (female), age (too young/inexperienced), and race (may have an accent). Let’s call a spade, a spade and move on. Today, I don’t want to focus on what needs to be fixed in society because there are plenty of forums that are already addressing these efforts. But instead, let’s talk about how we can thrive despite the aforementioned reality.
While it’s true that we face unfair challenges, it is equally true that significant progress has already been made in society. I thank the many accomplished women who paved the way for us (and we continue to do so in our own right). I work in healthcare IT, which some might consider to be a “man’s world” , but yet I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with innumerable accomplished women. By learning more about these incredible women, I identified some noticeable patterns in all the strong women I consider as role models. I also received some insights from my mentor regarding the subject on how to succeed as a woman in the workplace.
My mentor introduced the idea of a powerful presence to me a couple of years ago and it unlocked so many hidden questions in my mind. While it might come easier for some than others to create a powerful presence, I encourage everyone to research the topic further and learn about how to be more mindful of their presence.
It took some time for me to understand what defines a powerful presence. I went back in my mental archives – to all the people I’d worked with who had a certain quality which made everyone stop and listen to them. There is a natural style about certain people that makes you want to buy what they are selling. This in my mind is a powerful presence. A natural persona, calm/cool/collected, no matter what the situation is. Having a powerful presence means you are articulate and influential in any room you walk into.
Sometimes you may not know the answer, but you have to have enough confidence in your ability to discover the answers so that anyone who talks to you would know you’re the best person for the job at hand. I have talked to many women who don’t always realize how much they know because they lack confidence in themselves. Once you find that inner voice and confidence, the means to find solutions comes much more naturally than you’d think. When you’re a subject matter expert, do everything you can to ensure you know your material better than anyone else. When your homework is done and the work ethic is strong – just straighten your crown and own the room.
Go After the Greatest
Never settle for anything but the best – this sounds simple doesn’t it? How can this be one of my powerful thoughts? Well, that is because I can’t tell you how many talented women I have met that will settle. After many conversations with successful women in the industry, one pattern presented itself. More often than not, they have all seen women hold back from taking a shot for any number of reasons, meanwhile their male counterparts will go ahead and take a chance.
You would be surprised to see how flexible job requirements can be when trying to evaluate the right fit. Do not be afraid to reach out for an opportunity that seems like a great fit, even if you don’t meet every single requirement. Push past the anxiety and take your best shot – if you don’t make it the first time, you will still learn so much about what to improve in your next shot.
Believe in Yourself
Here is something that isn’t reiterated enough – We are strong, powerful and have no reason to act like men to get ahead in our careers. We can hold our own in any workplace, as long as we set our minds to it. Block out the unfair criticism! Here is the thing about stereotypes, they aren’t generated out of thin air. Whether we like it or not, stereotypes take root after a repetitive pattern so let’s give the world a new pattern to hold on to.
We should build upon our strengths, instead of hiding them. Many times in the industry, I’ve seen recommendations to hide our “soft skills” to be replaced with other strengths. However, these “soft skills” make us stronger, more relatable, and are highly valued in the right setting. Let your personality shine, discuss your priorities and bring your ‘A’ game wherever you go. An example of this is interpersonal skills. Don’t let anyone tell you not to discuss your strong interpersonal skills because they might be considered “weaker” compared to tangible measurable accomplishments. Both of these skills are equally important in a great leader.
Balance is Key
Contrary to popular belief, we can have it all. There is no doubt about it. We just have to find the right balance. No matter what your career goals are, it’s important to clarify your priorities from the start. For those of us that crave a healthy work life balance, this conversation is for you. Women are still told not to discuss family related goals if they want to get ahead at work. I just don’t believe that is true any more. We should continue to find the good fight and let the world know how important it is to make time for our family. This does not take away from our ability to be present at our workplace and move up the corporate ladder. Multitasking is one of the most important skills women achieved all the way from our hunting/gathering days. Countless women have proven time and again that we can handle both our personal and professional commitments with both grace and dignity.
In conclusion, strut into any room with high heels. Get your Starbucks in one hand and a designer bag in another. Embrace your femininity if that is your style and hold your own, no matter where you are. Teach the world to value you by believing in yourself and letting your work shine. Incredible women have paved the way for us, we can do our part by being excellent at what we do.