Women at work: strong enough to bear the children then get back to business

This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now, the vague premise had been in the back of my mind for a while but I wasn’t quite sure what angle to take. Until I started having conversations with my female colleagues at work about how differently men and women are perceived at work. Why is it that us women do ourselves down so much at work?

I love that I work with a great group of strong, intelligent, funny women, and I love that there are more women in my direct team than there are men. I also feel very lucky that our male peers are very much supporters of us ladies, and I suspect they actually like us women bossing them around a little bit. Here’s the problem though. Much as I am a supporter of other women, I hardly ever back myself.

Every time a new job opportunity comes up, my head spins round in circles listing all the reasons why someone else apply for the role would be better at it than me. What better experience they have, or how much more confident they are. Dave said to me once, that all I do is list the ways I think someone else is better suited than me and I never talk about all the strengths I have that makes me well suited too. And perhaps that’s just an element of being a little too modest, but I think it’s deeper than just normal imposter syndrome. I genuinely think it’s how we’re conditioned as women to be meek and quiet and do as we’re told. Or at last more so than men. It’s that old analogy; a man who speaks his mind if strong and confident, a woman who speaks her mind is difficult and a bitch.

I often wonder how many times a day other women say ‘does that make sense?’ and if it’s as often as I do, even though I know what I’ve just said makes perfect sense. I know that men and women have genetic aptitudes for certain things. When I first joined the working world, our HR department was mostly women and our IT department mostly men. Men are generally genetically taller than women (although saying that a lot of my friends are a good couple of inches taller than me and Dave is only 5’9 on a good day) but you get what I’m saying.

I’ve been called lucky in the past. I never went to university (my choice) and I’ve spent the last 20 years working my way up through jobs. Some of which I’ve hated, jobs where I would literally cry or have panic attacks at least weekly when I turned up in the morning but I knew they were good experience and the right opportunity would come along eventually. Is that luck? Or is that determination and hard work?

I read a really interesting article a while ago about two co-workers (one male, one female) switched email signatures. The results were quite apparent. What’s perhaps most shocking is not how the experiment went, but how shocked the make participant was at how the experiment went.

I’ve been in admin type roles most of my career so being dismissed or talked down to, particularly over email isn’t new to me. I’ve been told point blankly I don’t know what I’m talking about (by a man, when everyone else who the email went to understood what I was asking immediately) and been asked if I was flirting when I offered to extend a deadline by a day for someone. The second one in jest I’m sure but not something that would ever, ever be said to a male colleague.

I think that gender balance is tipping; there are far more men working in our HR department now and way more women in IT, which is incredible. I just think they way women are treated, or the way women feel about themselves, still has some way to go.

I read a good piece of advice recently on LinkedIn. When you feel like you’re being talked down to, or talked over, simply say ‘what do you mean by that’? It’s a simple question, which is non threatening, and will make people stop and think about the way they’ve just undermined you. I have this printed out on my monitor at work and it’s alarming how often I need to reference it, but at the same time, it’s slowly teaching me to believe in myself and trust my own opinions.

I guess what I’m saying is, always back yourself, because you can’t always rely on other people to do it for you. And if you find yourself struggling how to articulate yourself at work better, this table really helps!

I’d love to hear from you about your experience at work as a woman, or if you’re a fella, do you find yourself subconsciously (or consciously!) treating women differently?

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