I don’t usually like to brag on myself, but I can’t contain it…. I’m actually quite proud of me. In preparing for this blog every week, I have learned a lot about gender and women’s issues. Most of what I have learned is about internal biases and the little ways that we hold ourselves and each other back. While this is definitely my most comfortable forum to talk about these things, I have an overwhelming need to discuss it with women that I know. I have some pretty big issues with overcoming that. One is that I am an introvert and therefore very uncomfortable with groups of new people or mere acquaintances. The other problem is the people that I do know. Most people that I interact with on a daily basis find it very negative to talk about gender or women’s issues. They think that I am singling men out to be bad guys and that I believe that men are the source of all of my problems when I talk about these things. It makes it very hard to have a conversation with them about gender biases. But I did it anyway today. I put my big girl pants on and I went into a room full of 60 female coworkers that had a sprinkling of male coworkers and I talked about problems facing women. I also asked them to do some notecards for me. The notes would be anonymous, but I wanted them to write a few specific things.
- what does professional success mean to you? (sometimes we want to believe that everyone wants to stay with our company and it’s not always true)
- what are your barriers to achieving professional success?
- what advantages do you bring to the work place?
On the other side, they were to write the names of someone they think of as a good mentor. The talk was supposed to bring to light some problems that are going on with my company specifically. The cards were meant to illustrate that not all barriers are gender or “other” based. Sometimes our barriers are ourselves, sometimes outside forces. We also have different advantages. It was fun for me to see that many people wrote barriers and advantages that oppose each other. I had several who considered their barrier that they are shy, and then others who wrote “aggressive” down as an advantage. I appreciated that they opposed each other. It went back to us all not being a “hive mind.” Last month, I had done a little project that was meant to be like the “I need feminism” signs, but tailored to my workplace. Then I shrunk it down to ask for “strengths” and “areas of improvement” at our company, and without pictures so that people didn’t feel “called out.” The results were disturbing. A lot of those polled didn’t have nice things to say, and a lot of the compliments were actually a little insulting. The compliments supported the idea that women are some sort of hive mind, with things like “good at computers.” So today, I told the other women about the project and some supporting studies that I found and have previously shared on this site. They were the studies on gender bias when handing out job assignments and on male managers being uncomfortable talking to female employees. It’s a problem that they feel that way. I tried to assure the women in the group that even though they weren’t necessarily the woman that caused these biases, they would continue to be victimized by it if they allowed it to persist. But I also stressed not being accusational when attempting to discussing these problems with their supervisors if they notice that they are happening. So many problems only bother us after someone has broken the glass barrier that keeps us from seeing it. That was what I was trying to do today. But I did it with people who’s eyes could see me and people that I would have to continue to look at for as long as we are at this company. It was terrifying and somehow liberating too. Since sharing the research I had done here, I went to work everyday with that same feeling you get when you’ve read a book that a friend hasn’t read and you’re dying inside until they finish it or at least get to the part that you want to talk to them about. Today, I could let that feeling go and it was amazing. And terrible, let us not forget how terrible talking to new people can be. But it’s done. I don’t have to live with it eating inside me anymore.