What you are about to hear, may shock you, but not necessarily surprise you.
The work environment for female corporate professionals in America SUCKS.
You heard me.
Our job interview schedules are filled with old-culture companies where women must prove themselves in order to get 50% of the respect (up from the default 15%), and startups with a largely male posse at the helm for which gender bias education is at the bottom of the priority list.
Actually, something cannot qualify for prioritization if the ones doing the prioritizing are unaware of its existence. So, there’s that.
What’s strange about the whole thing is that the younger a woman is, and the more idealistic she is, the less it sucks for her. Ignorance is bliss, after all.
“He wasn’t disrespecting me when he said I looked hot in this shirt, I took it as a compliment.”
The older a woman gets, the more experienced she gets, and the more attuned her ear becomes to sexist dog whistles, the more her job satisfaction takes a dive.
“Why on this green Earth would you think it is appropriate to make a reference to my physical appeal in a professional setting? My eyes are UP HERE, pal.”
But I didn’t lure you here to talk about sexism (you are probably sick of hearing about it by now). #metoo
I brought you here to talk about choices, of which bright young women have many, even if sometimes it’s hard to see it that way.
Choices come from possessing knowledge others want, identifying opportunities to provide it, and having the confidence to know you are worthy of them.
A Woman’s Right to Choose
It’s hard to see the forest for the trees. That’s why there’s a nifty cliche for it, because it’s that common.
Professional women do their best work by keeping their head down on their laptops and keep on working, swatting away at every distraction.
Women want to excel. They want to succeed and create a body of work they are proud of.
If you have hired a woman, you can be sure of one thing: she will bend over backwards to not let you down.
If there is a goal to be met (the success of a project, getting that sale, keeping a customer happy), you will be hard pressed to find a professional woman who would half-ass it.
That is why it is difficult for these girlbosses to face hard situations at work and think of other options they could be taking advantage of. Doing so would feel like quitting, like giving up.
You know who this is great news for?
You guessed it: their employers.
Companies can rest assured that their female attrition will not hit record numbers, but it is not because they are doing everything right to reward and retain them.
Women are staying all on their own, regardless of the environment.
Until the company screws up.
As long as the responsibility to reward and promote female employees continues to be a mythical concept only seen by few in the wild, the sense of duty to a faceless corporation will continue to slip.
That is the one thing companies should be frightened of when it comes to retaining their female talent: women have a choice, and they are not going to put up with their crap for much longer.
Are women doomed to a life of discrimination, lower pay, and tiny job movement increments?
The professional lifers, the die-hard corporate-in-their-veins leaders, never-shy-away-from-a-challenge powerhouses who have their sights set on the corner office say:
“NO! Because I will be there to effect change.”
These women are not victims. These leaders will pull through, earn a seat in that board room and help make the leadership ranks look more like a real depiction of our country’s demographic.
And the world will be better because they are there.
In the other corner you have the entrepreneurial types, the ones that look at their boss and think “I don’t want your job.” The ones who feel in their gut that there has got to be more to life than coming to work early, getting home late, and getting up the next day and doing it all over again. They say:
“NO! Because I will make an impact in others’ lives by leading the way on my own.”
This last group of women are those who have been trained in important business skills their entire professional lives and see an opportunity to apply those same skills to enrich their own lives, make a larger impact in the world, and have control over their own schedule and income.
Both sets of women are trailblazers.
They are creating a path for others to not have to deal with the complex workplace dynamics we see today.
Using your corporate training to advance your own life’s goals
For better or for worse, the current corporate cultural environment has inadvertently trained women in their 20s and 30s to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
After all, how could they have survived, let alone thrived, in the current climate without them.
Think about it.
Woman starts in Corporate America, eager to make her mark. Let’s call her Kate.
Kate graduates Cum Laude from a mostly-male business program. She gets a job at a Fortune 100 corporation and is over the moon excited about her future prospects.
Kate encounters sexism in the form of criticism and misplaced feedback, but does not recognize it as such, and would never describe it in those terms. To her, it’s just feedback.
She believes it is in fact her inexperience that makes her deserving of the extra “tough love.”
So she adjusts, and tries again.
The following year, at her annual review, she receives feedback that she must tweak her communication style to not rub her coworkers the wrong way.
She does not understand the context in which this is being brought up, as it is her male counterparts that have described her behind closed doors as emotional, dramatic, and bossy.
But she takes the feedback, adjusts her approach again, and keeps on working.
The following year she receives the same exact feedback.
By this point she internalizes that she is doing something wrong, and must continue to work on it.
Kate believes that now has the perfect answer to the “weakness” question in a job interview. After all, so many times getting the same feedback must be a sign.
Her inexperience with gender bias means she does not know that her male counterparts have never been given the same feedback, and that, in fact, they are receiving accolades and better opportunities to move up the ladder a lot sooner than Kate is.
After a few years of this, Kate has had more exposure to corporate workplace dynamics, she has been passed up for a few promotions she had to fight to even be considered for, and the feedback continues to be the same.
What do you think Kate’s new magic power will be after all these years of adjusting to the same feedback? You better believe she is going to be the most effective communicator they have ever seen.
Because a professional woman never gives up, and never half-asses any task, Kate has become the single most admired non-leader in her company by her peers.
One day, she sees a Facebook ad for a webinar on how to start a side hustle. She believes she’s got a whole lot she could teach others.
Kate has gotten so good at documentation and creating effective presentations, that creating an online course would be a no-brainer.
Her mind keeps going back to it over and over again. Could she make money doing this?
She knows she wants to help other women feel successful at work, but doesn’t quite know how that can turn into a business.
So she asks her corporate female friends what they are struggling with. She documents her market research on a Trello board and now her brain is flooded with ideas on how to help them.
She takes an online course at night on how to create online courses, joins a Facebook community, and starts working on it at night.
During the day, her mind keeps going back to it over and over. She must include a section on ABC, and tweak XYZ as soon as she gets home.
Sucky things continue to happen at work. She keeps fighting coworkers for a chance at that promotion, but now she has an escape route. Her perspective has changed.
Over time, Kate creates a strong online brand all around helping women. Sets up a website, social media accounts, and provides value to her audience every single day.
Finally, Kate doesn’t feel like the world would end if she were ever to quit her job. She loves her job, but now she knows she could make it on her own.
You can’t buy that kind of confidence. Kate will be fine.
What happens now?
What do you think happens now? We are women. We don’t stop. We keep on working.
We just have to make sure we support each other, speak up when we see something, and continue to give each other tools to create perspective and move forward in our professional lives.
It may be a cruel world out there, but we always have a choice. What’s yours?
Are you like Kate? Get your power back. Connect with Ina at inacoveney.com
Originally published at www.inacoveney.com/secretlife