The other day I was engaged in an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues over going vegan. Our manager overheard us and joined the conversation by adding that studies show children of families who can afford meat products grow taller and bigger than other children. He continued to say that in most businesses men who are taller are perceived to be smarter and more suitable to take on high level roles in an organisation. He said he had seen men throughout his career who were smarter than their colleagues but had never made it to higher positions with their looks being one of the reasons if not the main reason.
Imagine if men have that sort of selection process towards their own gender happening in their heads, how hard is it for women to succeed in breaking those mental walls especially in a man dominated businesses?
I don’t aim to give solutions to this problem. I don’t think I want to call it a problem. I know that sort of bias is deeply rooted and, as I would assume, goes back to being a survival mechanism that our ancestors developed hundreds of thousands of years ago. The only way they could ensure survival was to learn to trust people and it was easier to do that with humans that looked like you. I would, however, like to point out that the reason you don’t see women in high ranking positions may not just be bias against gender, it’s a fight for continuity.
It’s about whether the person who is making the hiring decision thinks you resemble them in certain ways because they need to unconsciously trust that you can do the job as good they have been doing it.
The question here is if we can’t change those behaviours how do we see more diversity in those positions?
I read a recent Harvard Business Review under the title “Why Women Stay Out of the Spotlight at Work”. The research presented many of the reasons that keep women “hiding” and suggested steps that organisations can take to discourage that. While organisations do play a very important role, it was very clear that most of the highlighted reasons women stay out of the spot light were personal. One of the reasons that resonated with me was how they see promoting themselves as a tool that goes against their values and they don’t feel comfortable talking about their achievements outside the context of a team effort, so it never is attributed to them.
I recently had a chat with our practice lead over a small initiative that started four years ago in our team and I had been organising it since then. It was only until now that he was telling me what I had done with it was very impressive. It occurred to me that it wasn’t because he didn’t think it was impressive before, it was just that I never talked about it. Then from there I realised that I’ve always had a problem talking about the things I do in my career and in my personal life as well. I’ve always considered that it was a sort of bragging and didn’t want it to be associated to me. However, from that particular situation with my manager and from everything I have read so far,
not being vocal and not talking about your achievements could leave you cornered for years, especially in a world where you are surrounded by people who do that all the time.
Yes, there is a price that comes with being in the spotlight, one that women tend to feel more heavily than men. However, it is definitely up to you to decide whether you want to pay that price or not but don’t let that stop you from seeking opportunities you deserve.
You can always say no to a promotion that you think could take you away from your family duties but make sure you are given that opportunity in the first place.
People can’t know what you do if you don’t tell them, and if they don’t know what you do you can’t gain their trust and break the stereotypes they have in their mind. The more you are seen the more you are increasing your chances of being recognised.
I know actions speak louder than words, but chances are you’ll have to wait for a while until you see progress if you leave it at that. So, if there is anything I want you to take from all of this it is to be vocal in everything you do in your life with the people around you. If you are anything like myself and you feel like it’s bragging, remember this, I’ve heard that as long as it’s a fact then it’s not bragging!