Aside from my time spent as a tech journalist more years ago than I’d prefer to count, I haven’t spent much time in a male-dominated environment.
Our tiny team at Women’s Agenda is (as you can imagine) quite the opposite.
So reading this piece from a very senior female leader in a male-dominated sector was as eye-opening as it was depressing. She writes about what the ‘boys club’ is really like, how draining it is, and why it makes it so difficult to be your ‘authentic self’ at work if that self is considered ‘too emotion’ (or maybe it’s ‘too shy’ or ‘too confident’ or simply ‘too much’.)
The author of this piece is extremely successful, well recognised across her industry and elsewhere, and has won numerous awards.
Although she’s known to Women’s Agenda, she remains anonymous in what we’ve published.
It’s eye-opening to realise the extent to which bad, ‘boys club’ behaviour can manifest so strongly in certain workplaces — despite them being on the ‘better end’ of having more women leaders involved than at their competitors and other places.
And it’s depressing to consider how such cultures can ultimately hinder the talented women within them. How much mental energy these women need to devote to coping with the problem, and how they often have to leave their ‘authentic selves’ at home in order to fit in at work.
It reminded me of the powerful ‘I’m tired’ confession that lawyer Anne-Marie Rice recently shared, and that ultimately went global. Anne-Marie noted that professional life and kids is naturally exhausting, but more so is the exhaustion that comes from having to act in a way that’s not yourself.
“I am tired from 20 years of doing a job through a prism that is inconsistent with who I am,” Anne-Marie said. “A lens that I find fundamentally one dimensional and inherently aggressive. It is inherently masculine. The way the law is, largely, practised invites lawyers to solve problems by first making them bigger and then aggressively holding a position until a decision is imposed or a compromise based on brinkmanship is reached.”
“I am exhausted from walking that walk. It affects who I am. It dims my light. And looking around this room I know I am not the only one who feels it.
“But it also affects those who are NOT in this room. The women who have left the profession. Not having retired after a full and fulfilling career but who have opted out. Early.”
Anne-Marie was referring to the legal profession. For the anonymous author who shared her piece with Women’s Agenda this week, it’s about a single, large workplace.
Workplaces have different cultures, but there are also overarching themes in leadership that exist regarding who can and can’t get ahead, and what an ‘ideal’ leader looks like. There are themes regarding what parts of yourself you can and can’t bring into the office. These themes cross workplaces and industries. They even cross countries.
As the anonymous female leader wrote this week, it’s difficult to consider how we can make workplaces more diverse if workplaces are unwilling to examine how people are treated within them.
If employees can’t show up as themselves and won’t see their ambitions and their responsibilities outside of work respected and acknowledged, how can workplaces possibly expect to retain a diverse workforce, let-alone benefit from one?
Leaders are responsible for creating safe workplaces where people can be themselves. They hire. They promote. They set the standards of acceptable behaviour.
And those workplaces that have good cultures can ultimately assist in transforming industries. They will win in the war for talent. They survive in the ‘whisper network’ that sees women quietly sharing their experiences with others, warning them off the not-so-great or even absolutely terrible workplaces they have experienced.
After a slow start, the piece we published earlier this week on life in a Boy’s Club is gaining considerable traction and getting more widely spoken about and shared on social media. One comment I read detailed the experiences of a woman who quit a male-dominated workplace on her first day on the job, due to the immediate, inappropriate comments she experienced.
The first day. And the reality is she was probably one of the lucky ones. She saw it, and could quickly move on. And she’ll no doubt go on to quietly warn others.
Read the piece here.