The CBS Morning Show has been featuring a week-long series on female empowerment in the workplace and it brought up a very disturbing point. It was stated that in the minds of company bosses there are two kinds of women – those who are nice – and those who are ambitious. I felt my stomach sink when I heard those words said out loud because I know from firsthand experience that it’s true. I remember interviewing for a position early in my career only to have the job go to a less experienced colleague, fresh out of college. When I asked my boss why I wasn’t given the position, he simply stated that he thought I was too “nice.”
Yes, I actually pride myself on being friendly, cordial and fair – so I certainly couldn’t argue with the fact that I was nice. But I also pride myself on conducting myself with professionalism – and in doing so hold myself and others to a high standard. He was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to reprimand or fire employees that weren’t performing up-to-par. I realized then that I was being stereotyped. In fact, I would have no problem communicating that information to a subordinate, not through emotion but simply through concrete examples of situations where expectations were not met.Yet, I never got the chance to prove that I was right. Also complicating the career landscape was the fact that my appearance has often attracted attention. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no bombshell. I don’t “work it” Erin Brockovich-style with tight skirts and low-cut blouses, but I do care for my appearance and try to look well-groomed. And while I’ll admit that this fact may have opened a few doors for me, it also placed a glass ceiling above my head.
Whiney example number two: When I was working as a videotape editor for a nightly newscast, I prided myself on making use of powerful editing techniques to give a story maximum impact. When my superior told me that my piece had been chosen by another manager to inspire his department to edit with with a little more finesse, I was pleased. And my boss was pleased too – until he discovered that it was my piece that was chosen – laughingly saying “Oh, now I understand…” Ouch. How could I ever hope to fight people’s deep-rooted perceptions?
Granted, I’m in my mid-40’s so perhaps my examples are ancient history. I certainly hope that things have improved a little with regards to gender bias. Since were seeing more and more women – strong women – achieving super-success, I would say that must be true. It’s inspiring – and it makes you wonder about the amazing potential of a future world where the dominant feminine qualities of kindness, compassion, patience and commitment will further color the landscape.
Instead of running from those attributes, or dumbing them down in exchange for the acceptance of others, we should honor them and allow them to carve out new roads to more enlightened destinations. Beauty, tolerance and a nurturing nature offer us a doorway to a more peaceful existence – and I can’t think of a more powerful thing than that.
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