I am privileged to be surrounded by some very strong women in my life. I have friends and family who are at corporate executive level positions, some are Doctors who are blazing trails in their research and a few who own their own companies. These women are strong, tenacious and when seated at the conference table, they lean in.
I was recently having a conversation with a friend who was lamenting how her boss, who is female, is so unapproachable and when pressed more her response made me think. She stated that her boss would listen to employees ideas, but then tell them why they couldn't be done, her emails were straight forward and to the point which came across curt and she made changes to improve work flow and the adage "If it is not broken why fix it?" was expressed.
I listened to her as her words flowed and it is when she stated that her boss was a bitch did I decide to interject with my thoughts. I asked my friend what she thought of her other boss, who was at the same level as her female boss, but happened to be a man. She stated that her male boss was very direct, but got things done and when he made suggestions to changing the work flow it worked and his emails were to the point as he was a very busy person.
I felt that I should point out the similarities between both her bosses, but somehow the female was made out to be the bitch, while the male was an executive who got things done. Her response was "Well she should smile more." I had to smirk as I had a vision of a dear friend who lives in Belgium and who is quite formidable in the corporate world, look at my friend and say "What a load of rubbish!" in her very proper English accent.
I have been in high level corporate positions where I would be at the conference table and many a time was asked questions that would not be asked of my male counterparts. At one conference I was asked why I wasn't home raising my child and taking care of my husband? A male counterpart told me to smile more and not be such a bitch. I think he may still be sitting in some corner rocking back and forth because of my response and gesture.
I am tired of people referring to women in power as bitches, or unapproachable, or whatever words fill the blank to justify their position. As woman we fight hard enough to be at the corporate table, to be treated as equals and to have the same wages regardless of sex. I have watched men denigrate women and only because that person was a threat to their ego.
As I pointed out the similarities to my friend the light bulb did turn on. Sometimes when we have conversations we should listen, make a list if needed, and be open to what people are saying. I learned from her that the thought of women being more motherly is what would be more acceptable in the workplace. I am hoping she took away from our conversation to start viewing executive women in a different light. We need to separate the corporate executive from the maternal image we have somehow embedded in our DNA.
So to the dynamic, strong females in my life, when you're next seated at a conference table with men and start to feel the testosterone level rise, go ahead, lean in and say "You really should smile more."