A Woman in Business

Feminism, Feminists, Equality, Equal Pay, etc, etc These are the buzz words of the moment. In preparing to write this post, I began to search for information about about this topic, and was inundated. I had no idea.  Post-feminism, Standpoint feminism, Third-wave feminism, Difference Feminism, Lipstick Feminism. Reactions to reactions. Often I wonder what all the fuss about.

I know in a single post there isn't much groundbreaking work I can contribute. And to be honest, I don't particularly want to. I would rather talk about my experiences as a woman in business. In particular, the first time in my career I attended a meeting that involved only women and sat in a department that contained only women.

My business career started quite young. The high school I attended was the Academy of Business and Finance under the umbrella of the Bergen County Academies. We had an about equal boy-girl ratio among students (and teachers for that matter). But even there, strong women such as myself stuck out. 

Shortly thereafter my business career in the real world began. At age 15, I began interning in different companies. Every meeting I sat in on contained more men than women. The young female assistant (such as myself) was the norm.

My undergraduate college experience was no different. This is when I became most aware of the gender ratio. The college was 60% men. Granted, the administration worked hard to promote Women's Leadership with special programs, groups, and events. Nevertheless, the stereotype still abounded that this was the perfect territory for women to get their so-called MRS degree. And again, strong ambitious women stuck out.

Throughout my career, as I have traveled to different countries I have experienced many different stereotypes of the woman in business. My gender has definitely made my experience different than male colleagues of the same age/education/background. From the time I began attending meetings as an assistant at age 15 to today an Operations Manager at age 26, I am still disregarded as an unimportant player. When I sit down at a meeting, I am usually ignored by those who do not know me. I am seen as being an assistant or a 'travel companion.' One man even chuckled when I gave him my business card. His expression said, "Okay. I'll humor you. You want to pretend you have something to say here." I have gotten the distinct impression, at times, that a man has assumed that I am sleeping with someone sitting at the table and that is why I'm there. Even just walking the trade show with male colleagues or an older male colleague gets me a certain look. A blonde, attractive, young woman could not be possibly there to work.

It is also my impression that my presence disrupts the camaraderie of the male dynamic. They feel the need to treat me as a lady, which is kind on one level. But also singles me out for preferential treatment. We are not equal colleagues going to a meeting. We are male colleagues and a female colleague going to a meeting. Which is something very different. They won't curse in front of me. The dialogue is completely changed. The banter is different. They feel compelled to give me a chair if there aren't enough for everyone. At times I feel I am a disruptive presence inhibiting men from speaking and acting freely.

So all this brings us to last week. Last week I was in Moscow for work, and for the first time I had a meeting that involved only women. I also had a meeting that contained more women than men. I sat in a department that contained only women. For the eleven years of my career, I was the minority, and suddenly I was the majority. Granted there was still an element of being an outsider because I was a visitor from another company. But still there was a bit more ease in interactions.

The energy of the room was different. The way the women interacted with one another. I had the impression that the way I had been interacting with men in meetings all these years had nothing to do with the interactions going on here. I felt a bit uncertain as to how I should speak and present myself. Nevertheless we had two very productive days of meetings, and I enjoyed the experience very much. I felt comfortable among them in a way that I had never before felt in a work environment.

Still being a strong willed female in the business world and the world in general has its challenges. I appreciate the work of the ladies of Columbia Business School below. They had something to say about this. 

Being a strong willed businesswoman who speaks her mind both in the office and out has frequently been less than appreciated (to say the least). I should smile more. Speak softly. Adopt the kind and soft-spoken ways of other women around me. But that, I am not sorry to say, is just not who I am. And if you can't accept that, then you are in the wrong place. 

I could very much relate to what these ladies had to say. Please enjoy.

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