I read this article today – 3 things that women should stop apologizing for – and really liked it because it summarizes very well my learnings in the past few years about some of the challenges we face as women in our career. The three things we SHOULD NEVER apologize for (and we do all the time – especially for items 1 & 3):
1. Being Smart
2. Being Successful
3. Being Powerful
Ironically (or not) enough, it’s presented by Citi, a financial institution.
Why is this ironic? As someone who had previously worked on Wall Street, I had experienced the most male-dominated, women-oppressing environments firsthand. Women in banking are a sad minority that keeps apologizing for its existence. As a woman, I had 2 basic choices to lead my career with – either be soft and sweet and be labeled as the girl that gets promoted for sleeping with the boss (or not get promoted at all), or being labeled as the aggressive woman that doesn’t know her place in the food chain or gender role. i.e.: Hello Kitty or T-Rex. Not Cool. I was more on the T-Rex side, which didn’t make me feel too good but also didn’t get me too far as I wasn’t sharpening my teeth enough. Moreover, that experience made me learn to apologize for being smart again and again.
Thankfully, I had left that environment some time ago, got over the stigmas and saw that there are other types of professional environments that are not as chauvinist. But I was left with the sense that males are the ones creating these dynamics. Later one, when I went to business school we talked about how women are statistically significantly underpaid as compared to men, and what may the reasons to that be. There are three that stuck with me ever since, that showed me that the fault is ours as well: (1) women don’t negotiate their starting salary as much as men and therefore have a smaller base to start from.( 2) women are much more hesitant to ask for promotion than men and (3) when women succeed, they, unlike men attribute their success to other factors(i.e. my team, luck, etc), rather than themselves.
In the Brazilian environment, I see quite a lot of that, and as opposed to USA when this subject is being discussed over and over again, I feel like there is a big lack of role models and reluctance to bring the subject up. Moreover, women feel much more embarrassed to be promoting themselves (especially if they ARE indeed intelligent and competent) as it may be interpreted as aggressiveness, arrogance, or what not.
I have personally been mentoring a colleague of mine, an extremely intelligent industry expert that kept feeling like she is failing because she was treated like a junior person and ignored by management. When asking her why she is not bringing up her expertise more often, she said she wouldn’t want to show off, so she just kept her opinions to herself all the time, which in turn made people think she doesn’t have the knowledge on the subject. After a while, she herself started thinking she is inadequate because others were always appearing to have knowledge and expertise and ready to express themselves at all times (when in fact, they were just doing self-marketing with little substance). This makes me so angry – and my tactic has been to channel my anger into her – “Know you are fucking smart and others are just fucking idiots” is the mantra I keep beating into her. I think that so far I made her see the second part of the mantra, which is already a progress, but the first one is tougher. It will take longer as there has been too much ego damage to repair.
I hope to continue spotting these smart and wonderful women so that I could remind them what they forgot so that they feel comfortable to charge the world and reach their true potential.