One Thing Most Women-in-Business Can’t Get Right

Just… Be Yourselves!

You only control what you put out there: inside — out! NOTHING else!

What do I mean by that? Here is a little story for you:

The train of conversations and thoughts that started after a pleasant chat over coffee with a friend on Sunday reached the culmination last night at the AI panel I attended. Panelists? All women — smart, successful, working at some great and successful corporations or startups.

Not sure why but this whole week has been the whirlwind of discussions around how men and women should be treated equally, but they are not. It’s quite amazing to compare how some of the most impressive men I’ve met in life look at this subject VS some of the most inspiring and intelligent women I know. The article by Ellen Pao “This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley” didn’t help the pile of thoughts in my head either and yesterday they hit the “bottom”.

I was late.

The elevator opened, and I unexpectedly found myself marching into the open space, right into the event when everyone looked at me with this look like I didn’t deserve to be there. I gently smiled and went to the registration desk to pick up my tag. Since I didn’t want to disturb others who have made efforts to show up on time, I stood at the very back. I get excited every time I see women who talk about geeky topics. I’m like “you go, girl!”.

Thankfully, they were still introducing the organizers and partners when I arrived. Finally, the panel got together. My standing spot turned out to be pretty good, putting the entire panel and audience in the palm of my hand. As they kicked off the discussion, something didn’t feel right, didn’t feel comfortable and engaging. Every time the question would be asked, panelists would look at each other, worried about who would go first. It took good 20 minutes for them to warm up and finally by the end of the hour, we got to the good point when it was almost sad to break off the conversation and go home.

At the discussion turned out to be GOOD but while listening, I also was doing what I usually do very well! Observing people. So here are common observations I made about the panelists:

Poor poster
Sitting like you don’t want to be there, not feeling right in your skin.

Low tone of voice
Speaking like you don’t want people to hear what you are saying.

Constantly touching body/hair
All the time, touching the nose/chicks, correcting your hair, making sure your skirt hasn’t gone up too much, etc.

No engagement
Sitting like you’ve been glued to the chair. Yes, I understand, you are sitting and can’t move much but when you spend 30 minutes in the same position — that is not okay!

Short answers
What men are great at is speaking in broad terms: industry trends, painting a bigger picture, connecting the dots, making predictions. That’s why people always deem them as confident “experts” (Quite honestly with you, I can’t even count how many times these same “experts” have been just talking BS using those big industry words, not understanding the core of the subject but that’s not a topic for this article). Women, on the other hand, stick to basics. Answers are short, not very deep and not detail-oriented.

Now, here is my question to you: if we, women, think we are equal to men, why do we treat ourselves or present ourselves like we don’t deserve to be where we are?!

No one gets to control what other people think about them. You can’t change others’ attitudes unless they come to a different conclusion on their own. And yes, I do agree that society and this in particular “old white boys” culture has some serious issues with treating smart businesswomen with deserved respect and we can’t just sit and wait until they gracefully change their mind on their own. But, back to my point — we are not others’s mothers, wives, sisters, caregivers, babysitters to school them and teach them how to behave properly. The only thing we can do is be ourselves, shine at our best, be the first ones treating ourselves with deep respect, and whoever wants to notice, appreciate, and value us, they will. Who doesn’t, just leave them alone.

It will take time, but people around you will learn how to make their way to talk to you, to engage with you, to ask for your opinion, to value your work, and at the end, treat you as equal. You can’t ask others to practice what you are preaching if you are not leading by example yourself. So, if you want to be equal to others, treat yourself like one and treat others like THEY are equal to you as well.

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