I was once meeting with someone on my team before I left a job. It was a great conversation, one where I was feeling proud to have worked at the company and with this person. But, about 10 minutes into the meeting, this person said something that shocked me -- something I’ve not been able to forget.
She said, “I really hope they don’t hire a woman to replace you.” A woman said that.
How could this amazing woman -- who I’ve personally witnessed support other women, and men for that matter -- say something like this?
We did not get into specifics, but she did express that she had terrible experiences with women bosses before we worked together. The sad part about this is it’s not the first time I’ve heard a woman make a comment like this.
I began to think about all these women, the former bosses and colleagues being spoken about. While I knew nothing about them, I wondered if they were terrible people or what I suspect, just victims of the challenges women face in the workplace.
I believe these behaviors can be eliminated once we close the gender gap, and I have a few thoughts on how we get closer to that day.
Women are not supporting the advancement of women enough in the workplace
It’s interesting that women, who are viewed as more communal and nurturing than men, are not the ones who exhibit these traits professionally. Most of the time, it’s men who I have witnessed helping each other.
I’ve seen more men making deals and reciprocating professional favors on the golf course or on a kids’ soccer field than I’ve ever witnessed women doing. A study last year published by SAGE revealed that women are just not as effective as men when it comes to networking. Women have concerns about benefiting from social interactions, while men are much more likely to take advantage of them.
It’s time for women to revisit their definition of support and help each other more professionally, the way we do in our personal lives. In an effort to reject the “boys club” mentality, we are too quick to dismiss the notion of a club. While we reject the exclusionary part of the club idea, let’s not walk away from the good parts.
Women should promote their whole selves at work
Men are much better at promoting themselves, be it their personal or professional accomplishments. Men more often share their personal interests and talents at work, while women are much more reserved. Observing the desks of both female and male colleagues has often proven this point.
According to Meredith Wells-Lepley, director of research at the Institute for Workplace Innovation at the University of Kentucky, it’s men who tend to display accolades such as trophies and certificates related to their personal successes in the workplace while women personalize their work setting to improve the aesthetics.
Celebrating yourself does not mean you are selfish. I have been utterly surprised and impressed countless times from what I learn about women when I’ve had female relationships extend outside of the workplace.
Strengths both inside and outside of the office can help one’s career, so it’s time for women to stop hiding their whole self so they can leverage some of this magic for professional advancement.
Working differently is not a bad thing
It is only recently that I have come to realize how amazing working moms are. Their ability to juggle things is a skill to be valued. I must admit I used to be one of those people who was judgmental of the women (and men) who left the office early to pick up their kids. What I’ve learned is that they weren’t working less -- they were working differently. Why is it bad to have dinner with your family and finish that work email afterwards?
This challenge is relevant for many today, be it caregivers or Gen Z employees who have different workplace expectations. Working 9-5 in an office is an outdated reality, and one that many studies have shown to be less productive. A Stanford research study showed a 17% increase in productivity from employees who worked from home.
Flexible work arrangements also help with employee recruitment and retention, and with so many organizations struggling with the war on talent it just makes sense for companies to rethink the antiquated norms of how and when we work.
A few days ago, I was having lunch with the former colleague who made that statement about women. She was telling me about a few candidates they were interviewing at her company to be her boss. She then went on to tell me there was this great woman candidate she was hoping they would hire. I smiled. Progress.