On a rainy day in a boardroom in Melbourne, this was the reaction from a group of men to a female technology professional who had challenged their approach to a technical solution earlier in the day.
As the only woman present in the boardroom at the time this comment shocked me far less than it should have. As a woman in the male-dominated industry of technology I have acclimatised.
Despite the gender bias and blatant sexism that exists, it’s still possible to not just succeed but to flourish as a woman in what remains a man’s world.
Unconscious gender bias pervades every aspect of life – and nowhere is it more prevalent than in the workplace. Consider that 76% of respondents to a Harvard study agree that men are better suited to careers and women to homemaking.
But it’s important to recognise that unconscious gender bias is exactly that – unconscious. It’s also not only men who suffer from gender bias – women do too. We are all guilty of it from time to time and it isn’t always intentional.
These are my practical tips on how to flourish.
Play to your Strengths
Clark Kent is just an average Kryptonian on Krypton, but on Earth, he is a Superhero. Likewise, being a woman in a male dominated corporate environment should be seen as a source of differentiation and leveraged as a competitive advantage and an opportunity to stand out.
Authenticity is a powerfully influential characteristic, so trying to fit in by acting like something you aren’t – in this instance by taking on the characteristics of a man – will usually work as a disadvantage.
Consider Voice Training
Confident girls are labelled as bossy from a young age. Putting a negative spin on what is a positive trait not only diminishes their self-worth and quietens their voice, but also perpetuates the ideologue.
Because of this some women exhibit certain voice traits including speaking through their heads to sound softer, speaking through their throats to sound more masculine, or ending sentences with upward inflection, which indicates uncertainty and is better suited to a question.
These traits can undermine authenticity and confidence which is why voice training can be a valuable investment.
Mentor for Lasting Change
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Likewise, gender bias can’t be eradicated overnight. The only way that it can be overcome is through generational change. It is therefore critical that women – and men – play an active part in contributing to societal change. For women who are seeking success, finding a mentor can be a game changer. It’s important though to make sure to pay it forward and become a mentor after achieving success.
Mentors can be free or paid, and while there is certainly value in a paying a mentor, I’d encourage you to offer mentorship for free if you’re passionate about changing the future.
Persevere with resiliency
Before you can persevere, you need a clear goal so make sure you know exactly what it is that you’re working towards. You’re going to encounter many obstacles along your journey; people will tell you “no” a lot more than you’d like to hear. Frankly, you won’t be perfect from the start – it’s a journey after all – so after every “no” make sure you reflect on why your approach failed, and what you can do next time to get a “yes”. By reflecting and learning, we turn every failure into a success. Aim to become an expert in whatever it is you do, because competence and subject matter authority will tend to trump any other shortcomings or challenges.
It’s an exciting time to be a woman. We’ve never had so many opportunities. Face the bull and become the Fearless Girl you were born to be.