In my career, I have known many women who feel that they need to over-compensate in their work practices in order to be simply seen as an equal to their male counterparts. At first I thought this was just a result of negative self talk from their internal ‘mean girl’, who tells them that they are not good enough or don’t deserve success.
However, my own experiences have led me to deeper awareness around this topic. I found myself subconsciously doing this when I entered the management ranks; always trying to prove that I deserved to be there like I was some impostor and people might uncover my secret if I wasn’t vigilant. But where did this come from? I’ve always had a healthy dose of self-belief and my nature is to tackle obstacles in a fearless, liberated way. It’s not something I experienced outside the realm of management, but shortly after I crossed over the metaphorical gateway, the winds changed and I felt like I had to run as fast as I could, simply just to hold pace with the male managers around me.
I recently had brunch with a girlfriend of mine, who revealed that she is close to giving up on her new-found management career after only being in the role for six months. She is highly skilled, degree qualified in management and very experienced in her field. She was ready to take the next step and spread her wings; I was so excited to watch her do it! She was super keen, tenacious and wonderfully enthusiastic to take on her new career challenge. She reminded me of myself 4 years ago and it made my heart sing to see her so happy and confident. So how could it be that this strong and vivacious woman, who has overcome many difficult life hurdles without seeming to break a sweat, was now slumped over the table before me, wiping away tears of anguish before they fell into her skinny latte? She was ready to throw in the towel.
Then my mind wandered to my other friend who is a forty something, fierce super woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’s a high flyer in the financial world and has a strong track record of being able to whip under performers into shape or out the door; she can do things many other mangers don’t have the ‘balls’ to do. Yet, she is now a sobbing mess, hauled up in her house for over a year, unable to face the basics of daily life. She has been too mentally unwell to work for twelve months as she is batting a deep depression, which at this stage she not able to surmount.
Then my blood started to boil. I got mad.
How is this happening? Why is this happening? Why are these strong, educated and gutsy women working their backsides off to climb to the ranks of management, only to be completely decimated when they arrive there? I thought that sexist attitudes had been eradicated by the end of the 90’s, but what I have realised is that it’s simply just gone underground. It’s insidious and it’s rife. The ‘old boys club’ have been cultivating new recruits and planting their seeds in secret, to proliferate under the facade of equality.
At this point I would like to state that there are many amazing men out there who respect women in the workplace and are fantastic managers, mentors and friends. I am lucky to have several of these ‘vigilantes’ in my life and I have learned not to take them for granted. If you work with one of these men, they will see you as an equal, empower you and give credit where credit is due. They are going to give you a boost up to the top of the corporate mountain because you earned and deserve the accolades. They will not stand at the top, wait for you to break eye contact and cut your lifeline rope just as you are nearing the summit.
However, there are the other types of men in the workplace. Apart from the blaringly obvious typical male chauvinist, who detests women being away from their ‘rightful’ place in the home, there are many other types of male co-workers who contribute to the eradication of women in leadership roles. For example, there is “Mr…….I’m all for women in the workforce so long as they are making the coffees” and “Mr…….I know she’s only working here so the business can fill their equal opportunities quota”. And we can’t forget “Mr…….she only got the promotion because she must have slept with the right person”.
Then it dawned on me. No wonder so many women in leadership roles are exhausted, bled dry and losing their sense of self worth. They are subliminally being told on a daily basis that they aren’t good enough, that they don’t deserve to be there and that they are not worthy of achieving success in the world of business. Imagine trying to fight for your job every, single day. This is reality for many women in management and they aren’t even aware that they are participating in this battle and it’s near on impossible to be successful in a battle when you don’t realise who your opponent is.
We have progressed enormously from the days portrayed in the TV hit show “Mad Men”, but is the ethos still being cultivated and just forced underground? Have we really progressed as much as we think we have?