When I was early in my career, I was very dismissive of the idea that women struggled more than men in the workplace. I was fortunate to advance quickly up the ladder and I’m ashamed to admit I thought many used the idea of sexism in the workplace as a crutch. When I was younger in the workforce, I had never personally noticed or felt that my gender slowed my progress and therefore didn’t see what others claimed were issues impacting theirs.
Years of experience, hearing and actually listening to the experiences of others gave me a wake-up call. I remember vividly, years ago, talking to a vice president after a meeting where she became very frustrated. I was lower in the organization than her, but was a pair of ears after a contentious discussion and she needed to vent. She pointed out how many times she contributed to the discussion and was dismissed, then a male counterpart made the same point and it triggered actual dialogue. I couldn’t deny it. After she pointed it out, I realized I had heard her and did see others take credit for her words.
It was in that discussion that I started reflecting on how many times that happened to me. Her words were hitting me like a brick. As she went on to discuss how exhausted she was to have to work harder than everyone around her, I realized I felt the same way. I did work harder. I was embarrassed to have to leave work to take care of my kids. I always felt like I couldn’t make a mistake while some of my male counterparts seem unqualified for their jobs. All of what women had been saying for years was happening to me too and my own insecurities didn’t allow me to see it.
Women’s Herstory Month is an incredibly important time to reflect on how far women have come, to celebrate the ground-breaking women who paved this road for us, broke through the ceiling and forced women to be taken seriously. It’s also important to acknowledge we aren’t done.
Women still struggle every day to be heard. We still get steamrolled over in meetings, we still make less money, we still feel the guilt of leaving work for our families, we still need to work harder to prove ourselves. We still feel like we don’t belong at the table because we aren’t given the same level of respect while we’re there.
We need to keep our foot on the gas pedal and pave the way for future women leaders. We need to support each other, respect each other, hear each other, and force others to hear us too. When we’re at the table, use our voices. People need to hear it because you have something valuable to say (and don’t forget to say it loudly so nobody else can claim it). When other women speak up, support their voice and help it be heard.
A few years ago, I was at a dinner with a strong woman leader who said “We can be our own worst enemies or best allies. If we stop competing with each other and start supporting one another we can finally start making some progress.”