Discover more from How to Lead Everybody (with their permission)
Leading While Female
With a shout-out to Tina Fey and Bossypants
If you identify or present as female, you know the knife-edge we have to walk:
Be assertive, or people won’t take you seriously. But if you are too assertive, now you’re a “B-word.”
Many women were socialized to look “pretty.” But if you are too pretty, people don’t take you seriously as a professional.
If you take time off to go to your kid’s school performance or soccer game, you are not taking your career seriously. But if you stay at the office, you are a mirthless cubicle-dweller with poor work/life balance.
Now, this is not true of all professions or all corporate cultures, and (believe it or not) it has actually gotten much better over the past several decades, but these are common enough experiences that most women who have been in the workplace for a while have a similar “war story” or two. I’m not even getting into the heavy-duty issues of sexual harassment and assault today—I’m starting with the “micro-aggressions” women experience in the workplace, particularly if they dare to be in charge (“You’re not my mom!”).
When stepping into a leadership role as a female, we have all of the concerns and responsibilities that our male counterparts do, but with the extra layer of navigational complexity from socialized gender roles. BIPOC leaders also have a similar “layer of complexity.”
So, what can we do?
Tina Fey wrote about this in her book Bossypants, which I highly recommend, if you haven’t read it (available at https://www.gibsonsbookstore.com/book/9780316056878 ; support local businesses!). Basically, we can follow the example of the Gen-X children who were allowed to play on a mind-bogglingly dangerous construction site and go “Over, Under, Through!”
Just do your job, and do it well. Live your life, and live it well.
The assumptions of others get in the way of either doing your job or living your life, go “Over, Under, Through!” This means you don’t need to fight every battle, call out every micro-aggression, fight the good fight for women everywhere, etc. Just figure out what YOU want in your career and your life, and do THAT.
Wear the professional attire that makes YOU feel competent (within reason—if your Wonder Woman costume is the outfit that give you this feeling, you may not find it lands the same way at work). My go-to is a pantsuit with a simple silver chain and dress flats (not heels, but I’m tall. You do you). Wear the confidence that your go-to outfit gives you.
Be assertive when you need to be. Aim for a vibe of: “I like and respect you, and I need this done by 5.”
Live your priorities. If you need to leave early to attend your kid’s school-thing, do it; let your people know you are doing it, and let them know how you plan to catch up the missed time. And also let them know that, when their kid has a school-thing, they can do the same, because we aren’t faceless cogs in a soulless machine—we encourage our people to have REAL work/life balance or work/life integration. See what THAT does for morale and retention on your team!
Most of the time, if we are good at our jobs, have a vision for our work and our life that gives us a solid sense of our own priorities, and then we strive to live up to those priorities, we can rise above or side-step the micro-aggressions (“Over, Under, Through!”) and succeed in our leadership and our careers. And when we succeed, we can change the corporate culture around us. This is why it has been getting better over the past several decades. Let’s keep the momentum going!
And if your work environment has too many negative influences that continue to impede you so that you can’t go “Over, Under, Through!” the negativity, consider finding a less-toxic work environment—a lot of companies are hiring these days.