My whole life, I’ve been told to make myself less conspicuous.
Today is Women’s Equality Day. On days like these, my newsfeed fills with podcasts and think pieces about how far we’ve come and the steps we have to take to get where we’re going. As I listen to them, consider them, and compare my own experiences, I play back the conversations I’ve had over my 25+ years as a white woman in the business world.
At six feet tall, I stand eye-to-eye with some of my colleagues, but can be a full head above others. I love to wear bright clothes that cut through the sea of grays and blacks that typically blanket the wardrobes of a standard corporate office. And as the owner of vocal cords in line with my stature, my voice carries in a room and my personality tends to do the rest. These are parts of me that my family, friends, and (hopefully many) colleagues love dearly — and that I’ve grown to truly love in myself. But some managers I’ve had over the years have failed to see that the outspoken, driven, energetic, and large (to be frank) human I am can’t easily shrink down to match a predetermined idea of how a leader should look, act, and like.
“Try to be less noticeable”
The only difference between the twenty-something woman who possessed all these traits and the C-Suite executive who still holds them today is that confidence and love for who I am. As I stand tall now, I still hear the voice of a CXO in my thirties who asked me to, “try to make myself smaller,” after I stood in the back of a conference room during a meeting or the CIO who asked that I, “try to be less noticeable” when in a meeting listening to vendors pitch us software solutions. I wonder where I would be had I listened?
Guess what. To all the women who have been told something similar, I have news for you. It’s not OUR job as women to accommodate the absence of understanding from our peers or a lack of vision from our leaders. We shouldn’t have to be smaller, quieter, or more amicable to be viewed as collaborative and team-oriented. Being empathetic doesn’t make us sensitive. Confidence isn’t synonymous with arrogance. Being bold doesn’t make us abrasive. The box they built for us wasn’t built by us and if you don’t fit in it, it’s time to flourish outside those four walls.
In reflecting in my own experience, I realized my own privilege. I’m one of 19% of C-Suite executives who are women. If I were a woman of color, that percentage drops down to 3%. As a white woman, not listening seemed like a more difficult path, but I had the option to choose, whereas most women of color don’t.
We need to support one another by understanding differences are what give our teams an edge, while also understanding how intersectionality comes to play in society and the workforce. Our competitive advantage is understanding that these things that make us different are where our power really lies and advocating for them to have a seat at the table.
I dress boldly.
I’m a woman.
And I’m a senior leader at one of the fastest-growing companies in tech.
Small isn’t in my vocabulary.
Have a story to share? Want to shout out a leader who encourages you to shine? Let me know in the comments!