The World Forum Disrupt hosted a Women in Media conference at the GasTower WeWork in LA this summer. The line up was impressive with senior-level executives and topics surrounding empowerment. The audience was nearly all-female (and mostly white). There were a few outliers, but this point was raised during the conference and will hopefully be addressed in the future. Topics that day ranged from personal growth and identity to how to talk to a room full of men when you’re the only woman. It was basically a playbook of how to be a woman at work. A few of the takeaways include:
Point 1. “Hold Space” for either yourself or others, seemed to be the phrase of the day. The overall consensus was that women are obligated to help other women in order to move forward as a group. You may not ‘like’ other women but making sure that you don’t block them is a start. This doesn’t mean you can’t compete with each other, as they say, ‘play the ball, not the person’. Don’t “step aside” as that’s just a path to not participating. It’s basically cheating because you’re not making a decision, you’re avoiding responsibility.
Point 2. Honor being female. Looking like someone else or feeling like you have to look like a former, aka skinner/younger, version of yourself is not honoring who you are right now. It’s no longer acceptable to request women be passive or play traditional roles; we have #metoo, mandatory sexual harassment training, and the knowledge that women can be just as successful as men without having to pretend to be one. We can increase acceptance in honoring ourselves by enlisting people to our cause, aka finding allies. Don’t change yourself, learn how to adapt. Or not. The point is to honor who you are.
Point 3. Things still suck. Men are still the majority of executives. Imposter syndrome is real. Women have higher standards when it comes to their personal abilities and yet are judged for what they have done in the past and not what they can do in the future. One suggestion was to write a press release about yourself. When you sit down to review your accomplishments, you remind yourself why you rock. Women self-select, they need 4 reasons not to do something and men need 10. If you’re playing the game, know the rules, be tenacious, and know who is in charge. One suggestion is that when you catch yourself starting the hamster-wheel mental drama, check yourself. Ask a man if he saw/heard the same thing in the room that you did. You may be surprised to find that sometimes you’re making a bigger deal out of it than it should be.
Point 4. Don’t run away from the hard stuff. Learn how to navigate difficult paths and come out on the other end. If you run away from everything you’re never going to really know who you are. Learn how to shift discussions. Conversations that push us into uncomfortable spaces could be resolved by changing the narrative to reflect the language the person speaks. If they talk in terms of money, explain things in terms of money. Get into that uncomfortable space. When someone needs a team lead, volunteer. Take risks. This isn’t just about pushing yourself, it’s about furthering your career and getting out where people see you.
Point 5. Keep on. In the past, the traditional management style has been top-down and binary. You are either in or out, good or bad, part of the team or an outsider. Women are changing that by opening up decisions to collaboration and understanding. It’s not that we rule with emotion, it’s that we allow emotion into our work. We can still be logical, decisive, and provide leadership and direction, but it also means that we are okay to feel in the process. Firing someone sucks, and by stripping ourselves of the emotions around tough choices, we close ourselves off to opportunities. Be open to mistakes and don’t be afraid to share them with your teams. Don’t expect perfection, expect progress, from yourself and those around you. Parity flows both ways.
So after all of this, I was left with the question of how do we create allies at work? How do we further the quest to be ourselves, pave the way for collaborative change, and leave the world a little better? We need to be open and honest about who we are and what we expect. We need to understand that a true ally can be asked to educate themselves without resentment either by you or them.
Truth doesn’t mean anger but it’s often perceived that way. How should we approach discussing/reminding people to be inclusive without coming across as “angry” or condescending? How can we communicate the need without turning people off? I still don’t have the answer but at least we’re having the discussion. When the issue of race in the conference was raised, it created an uncomfortable space. Women still have fear when we try to stick up for ourselves or ask those uncomfortable questions. The fact that a person of color could stand up in a crowd and question the white status quo of the room was a powerful reminder for everyone there. This led to a second question about trans and non-binary attendees. Both comments hopefully brought some understanding from all who really listened. It was WHY we were all there.
Changing behavior is hard, no matter how well-intentioned. It takes multiple episodes of a conscious effort to create a subconscious change. Change leadership comes from the top down and if it isn’t modeled by senior staff, no one else will start.
—Thanks to our guest writer, Barbara Stephenson from 300FeetOut
Check out the presentations from the day here.