By Jena Booher
Inevitably, at the end of every year during my year-end review, my managers would report I was “too edgy” and I needed to pull it back. What did this even mean? Frankly, I never found out because anytime I asked (which was many times) my managers were not able to put into words why being edgy was an area for improvement. Or at least they couldn’t put it in a way that was politically correct enough for HR to give the green light.
Looking back, “Too Edgy” most likely meant I didn’t conform to the status quo. My personality did not mold to what the system required. I was able to hang on to my big corporate job for so long only because of hard work. I never quite fit in. I was never part of the inside crew, but… I was good at my job. Simply put.
Women are constantly criticized for being “Too ****” (you can fill in your own blank). I am lucky enough to be a member of the female powerhouse network called Dreamers // Doers, founded by the lovely Gesche Haas. This group is comprised of hundreds of women who, at some point in their lives, were also called TOO “BIG” for their own good. After taking a poll from the group here were their reported TOOs:
Too Redhead (yes, this is real)
At the same time, all of the women in this particular group have realized their TOOs are their secret superpower. These were the crucial personality qualities that allowed them to start their own businesses, generate creative ideas, and change the world. I also asked this incredible group of women to offer up a translation for their TOOs; to define it from a more empowering place. For me, my “Too Edgy” is transformed into I am pioneer. I am never satisfied with complacency. Another woman transformed her “Too Quiet” into a superpower of being very reflective. For another, her “Too Feisty” translated to being known as a woman who stands her ground and commands respect.
One of my all-time favorite TOOs was from a female founder who reported being called “Too Much.” Her interpretation of “Too Much” is her presence, energy, and appetite for life is all TOO intimidating. Another real gem I received from my poll was from a young Asian American female founder. She reported being called “Too Direct.” When asking her the genesis of that TOO, she thought it was because most people expected her be a reserved and passive employee because of her Asian descent.
Finally, one last TOO was from an incredibly talented female CEO who said people call her “Too Smiley.” I asked her how being smiley could be interpreted as a negative. She said: “’Too Smiley’ makes people think I appear dumb.” Thankfully this CEO didn’t take this “TOO Smiley” trait (as a bad thing) TOO Seriously. Her joy brings light to everyone she interacts with and is one of the many reasons clients desire to work with her.
Gender stereotyping is nothing new and certainly something that all women face every day. However, the pitfall is potential missed opportunities and unmet goals due the effects of stereotyping. In a study conducted on four Midwestern universities, researchers found that implicit biases can foster negative attitudes and lead to damaging stereotypical behaviors. They specifically looked at how stereotypes can negatively affect the education, hiring, promotion, and retention of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Only after gender diversity training did they see more positive, personal implicit associations toward women in these fields.
It would be wonderful if we could transform our stereotypes/our TOOs from something that needed to be fixed into our superpowers worth celebrating.
Jena Booher is a strategic culture consultant and entrepreneur who is currently in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Psychology.