The past 24 hours has brought up a lot of discussion about women in the workforce, particularly gender stereotypes as Jill Abramson was mysteriously fired from the New York Times. Words like, “pushy” and “bossy” came to describe her as speculation that she did what any man would to if they found out they were not paid what their predecessor was being paid: confronting the boss.
Now, like that elevator conflict that happened this week… none of us knows for certain what really happened. Although there are some good observations on the circumstances around the firing. I just can’t help but to have compassion for the situation, even if in my own career the stakes were never as high. Like many women, I’ve felt the backlash of doing what any man would do. I’ve felt the sting of patronization that I couldn’t do what a male counterpart could do (even if I did achieve better).
Yet, I still have to wonder, is it just me?
A few years ago, I was thinking about entering a business partnership with another company, which comprised as one male and one female. They had funds and I had a network, so we went in 50/50. As soon as we started setting up the partnership, the man decided he would head up all the “business partnerships.” Even though I had all the partnerships from working on my own, he did not see them as suitable for the future of the company, or he thought he could “do better.”
I just remember him trying to put it nicely, “You do what you do best, and take care of the community side.” Which would have been fine if he had secured any business at all. It was very patronizing that he thought that I couldn’t be a part of the business development of my own community. Anyway, we did not end up partnering.
I wish this was an isolated incident, but it isn’t.
When it came to leading… I found very quickly I had a lot to learn. That asking people to do something wasn’t enough. While communicating what needs to be done is part of leadership, there is a lot more, and I knew nothing of it. Not having any leadership experience, I didn’t know what to do when someone didn’t do what I asked. Once, my website was down for three days and the developer made excuse after excuse and I lost my shit. I raised my voice and said, “I don’t care what it is, just FIX IT.”
After I hung up, my husband said, “You were a bit hard on him.”
Just a few hours later, my husband and I were watching an episode of Party Down, where the main character keeps messing up the party and the (male) client gets mad and says, “I don’t care, just FIX IT!” Or whatever, it was almost exactly what I said, and in the show, it was the main character (not the male client) who was made to feel at fault. I paused the show, and said, “How come when HE says it, he’s exerting his authority, and when I say it, I’m a bitch?” My husband apologized, and said I was right. Naturally.
“How come when HE says it, he’s exerting his authority, and when I say it, I’m a bitch?”
This past year and a half, I’ve “leaned out” from the workforce. Being the boss wasn’t easy for me. I was quite glad to go back on my own and refocus my energies. I look back on that period, and think I had partially failed, but mostly gained insight on what I’m comfortable with. Like, I’m 95% sure my employees thought I was a crazy bitch. Even though I am 95% sure I didn’t ask for anything crazier than what everyone else is asking.
I realize that growing up, my defense mechanism, or whatever it is that I do to be liked was to be non-threatening and kind of spacey. That in my work life, I just did my own work and shied away from leadership opportunities. Whatever it is, the whole concept of being a “boss” or a “leader” in the traditional sense doesn’t work for me. And maybe, just maybe, that’s the case for a lot of women. It’s not that I’m not capable, or I’m afraid of leading, it’s that aside from doing a job that’s hard for men to do, not having the support and the social awareness of our own innate sexism makes it very hard to succeed.
There are indeed women who have pushed through the bullshit in this industry and done well for themselves, and I admire them greatly (the Sophia Amorusos, the Karen Robinovitzes, and the ladies behind Bag Snob seem to be conquering the world lately) I just need to learn how to make my own way work.
[Image credit: Vogue China]