A couple of weeks ago, a piece in the Washington Post nailed something I've been thinking a lot about lately. You can read it here before continuing on with this one.
Go ahead, I'll wait.
After reading, I put out a general inquiry on Facebook, asking if anyone I knew felt they had been treated differently at work because, they believed, of their gender. The answer, I predicted, would be yes, but I was curious to see what stories may emerge: was it a specific industry that people felt more stereotyped in? Were people going to give just "yes" or "no" answers, but be afraid to call out their colleagues any further? Would anyone jump in on the thread/discussion and tell everyone they were being paranoid and crazy?
Or maybe I was wrong and gender inequality had been solved, and I missed it.
To paint the picture, here are a few stories (all anonymous) that are a mix of both conversations I had with other women and my own experiences in the past:
- Being told to "take a day" to consider/come to a conclusion about an incident or a person because "I work with emotions, rather than facts/logic."
- Being told to wear makeup at work because "I would look unprofessional if I did not."
- Being told to "try harder" when given a doubled workload, when a male colleague who was given the same extra work on the same day was given a substantial raise/bonus instead.
- Being told during a job interview "that being a chick 'helped' my chances of being hired."
Those handful of stories represent a fraction of the dozens of people--who work in fields from tech to media to politics, and who come from various ethnic, economic, and generational backgrounds--I heard from in just a few hours. Many were responding to others' comments on my Facebook thread and agreeing with the stories, saying they've gone through similar experiences. Some admitted they hadn't experienced any personally, but acknowledged inequality still existed. Some men participated in the conversation, noting times they saw their female colleagues discriminated against.
Earlier this summer, I attended a panel of women leaders in newsrooms around the country as they discussed the challenges they've faced in their careers. The panel included discussions about the barriers of "the boy's club" that exists in executive offices across the country, and the widespread "tone policing" that women face--whether it's because we are told to watch what we say and how we say it, or because we stop ourselves and re-frame our own words out of fear that we will be labeled as "emotional" or that we will be labeled as "a bitch" when we're trying to be assertive. (I was once scolded by a male colleague known for micromanaging for micromanaging him when I asked him if he had completed a simple task he had allegedly started four hours ago.)
A lot of these conversations are not new for me or for many of my friends and colleagues I've spoken with. But there's something powerful about hearing stories of inequality listed one after another. It's something I've also been thinking a lot about lately as I take on leadership roles. When you're young and a minority, and in a position of leadership, it makes you thinking a lot about how others might perceive you whenever you say or do anything.
I'm fortunate I sit among other women leaders of color who've been giving me volumes and volumes of support over the last couple of months. "Mentors are great, but you also need sponsors," someone at the summer panel had said. "Someone who will pick up the phone and make a call for you, and who will help you break down barriers and doors." It's true: advice and mentorship is great, but you need warriors on your side too--and no matter the gender or the age or the position, you can (and should) be a warrior for someone else without feeling threatened.
There are so many more branches that grow from this discussion--further conversations about race and poverty and families and more. I didn't expect I could touch on all of it in one post, and it frankly wouldn't be very realistic if I tried, because I'm still learning and these conversations are still going. The world is still changing. There's still room for the status quo to change too.