I got my start in corporate America at a very young age.
I wasn’t even 18 years old.
Since then, I’ve held a number of different positions; from the low ranking entry-level employee to management. I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to grow, learn, and develop skills I would not have had the chance to had I not decided to concentrate on just the field of psychology. However, if I said that being a woman in corporate America is easy I would be lying.
Add the fact I’m both a Muslim and a newly immigrated woman and things start to get really interesting.
The New York Times released an article by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, titled “Speaking While Female” as part of their four-part series on women in the workplace. Not to my surprise, the article talked about how women are more likely to stay quiet at work due to fear of being perceived as too “aggressive” and how even when they do speak they’re not really being heard.
When I first started working, I noticed the pattern of being shot down for ideas in meetings that were eventually used, without credit to me.
I noticed how the words that came out of my mouth simply sounded better when one of my male colleagues was saying them. Anything I could do, the men could do better, even if the process and the end result were the same. Any idea that came out of my innovative brain was just much more effective if one of my male colleagues took it from me and implemented it.
For a while, I decided to play the meek, quiet Muslim woman at work concentrating on my workload and keeping my ideas to myself. After all, I wasn’t being heard and even when I was, I wasn’t being credited. That changed pretty quickly when I held a managerial position. I was gifted (or cursed) with the ability to make decisions, to implement ideas, and, better yet, to veto those ideas I just simply did not think anything of.
All of a sudden, my colleagues had to listen to me; even if they did not want to. Predictably, this resulted in me being considered far too aggressive and, occasionally (lovingly, I’m sure), a bitch.
It did not matter that my ideas increased efficiency by 23% in one quarter or even that, thanks to my ideas, the department was able to decrease cost by 4% and increase profit by 6%. In the end I was still the cold, aggressive, woman who spoke just a bit too loudly and had just a touch too many ideas.
Working as a woman in a male-dominated field is always a struggle.
I had the chance to spend some time with some of the top female executives within the field of finance and insurance. These intelligent, educated, fierce women who are making waves with their ideas experienced the same issues as I did. For most women, it doesn’t matter if you’re at the bottom or at the top; your ideas are only valuable if they come out of a man’s mouth.
So, it’s no wonder that so many women stay quiet in the workplace.
Sandberg and Grant suggest holding “Obama-style meetings” and offering women the floor whenever possible, so that it may demonstrate to teams just how difficult it can be to speak as a woman.
Maybe it will help.
Maybe if we become aware of the gender bias we hold, we will be able to break it.
The fact most women in the workplace are experiencing not only wage gaps but also gender bias in terms of perception, promotions, and evaluations means that we still have a long way to go. If we want to be the best, we must listen to those who offer us the best ideas for improvement and change, be it men or women.
Right now, we are not listening equally and until we begin, women will continue to struggle with speaking in the workplace.