Fight the big fight — but don’t forget yourself

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about what men in male-dominated companies can do to hire more women. It was a post that I had wanted to write for a while but never really known how to set the focus. Creating a change is all of our’s responsibility, and since men hold the majority of all positions of power, we need the support from them and we need them to take action (thank you to those who are).

The foundation of these problems are buried deep in social structures (no, not biological) and it’s a fight we need to take to create a change. However, fighting that fight — the one I call the big fight — and making a change, will take time and most likely not affect our current status in our current positions. So I wanted to write something in the hopes of empowering the women who need to see change happen today. Let us not rely on others to win our fight, let us take charge of our own careers.

“I fight the big fight for my future daughters and granddaughters,
but my fight — that one I fight for myself. “

So here’s what I do

Don’t leave before I leave.

This is a famous quote by Sheryl Sandberg in her book about women in the workplace, Lean In. She talks about the fact that most women leave their workplace mentally before they leave physically as they are about to have children. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s not worth taking on new challenges or asking for promotions as we’re expecting, since we’ll soon leave anyway. Sandberg states that many women stop asking, sometimes even before they get pregnant, for these opportunities.

I believe this recommendation applies to all stages of life. As I’m currently not thinking about having children, I apply this to my thinking for moving between jobs. Don’t leave before you leave. I won’t stop saying yes to new challenges just because I’m looking for other opportunities. I won’t stop asking for a raise, asking for a promotion. This only hinders me if I decide to stay longer than I had expected. It also hinders me as I’m not meeting new people and learning as much as I could before making my transition — something that can affect my starting point tremendously at my new position, both in terms of salary and resources. I try to continuously build my network and learn as much as I can, and that is much easier if I give my absolute best until the very day I leave.

Ask questions, ask for a raise, ask for challenges.

Research shows that women are much less likely to ask for most things. This affects our personal opportunities for advancement but on a higher level, it’s also one of the larger contributors to the gender wage gap. Asking and advice seeking can be far more powerful than we might think.

In Give and Take, Adam Grant talks about the power of speaking powerlessly — or the use of powerless communication — and how revealing shortcomings, talking tentatively and asking questions earns us trust, respect and status among others. This only works if you’re perceived as competent before, however, but it would then make you more likeable. Grant mentions the experiment in the research made by Elliot Aronson in 1966 that later resulted in the concept of the Pratfall Effect. Perceived experts and perceived novices were asked to pretend to spill coffee on themselves and their attractiveness was later measured. It turns out that when experts made small blunders outside of their domain of expertise, they were perceived as even more competent, as it seemed to humanize them. I’m not saying that we should spill coffee on ourselves, but we shouldn’t be afraid to let people know that we need help.

Asking for a raise or asking for help are not the only things we should ask for. Today, women hold 14,7% of all board positions. All the while, research shows that companies with a more diverse board, also have a more balanced representation of gender on all levels of the corporate ladder — which is what most companies desperately are looking for. Board work is not only important because more diverse boards hire and promote more balanced teams. It’s important because more diverse boards generate higher profits. It’s important because we need female role models on the top to encourage women to fight for their seat at the table. It’s important because we need to be able to make our voices heard. And it’s important because it breaks stereotypes. Nobody ever asked me to be on a board, but I asked, and they said yes. I also started my own board, when I was running my startup. Any opportunity to get into a boardroom is worth grabbing because regardless of it being big or small, the learnings and experiences are very valuable.

I constantly look for companies and organizations that I care about and want to have an impact in and I recommend doing the same if board work is something you’re interested in. We should grab opportunities where we see them. Because men always do. And then ask.

Women are also less likely to be considered for senior positions because of social structures and unconscious biases. This means that something like those “tough challenges” to test the potential of an employee being promoted are more often given to men than women. In contrast, women usually need to ask to get the same opportunities. If we push for that challenge, our managers will not only see that we’re driven to step out of our comfort zone but when we show that we generate great results, we have a better chance at getting that promotion.

I love this part from Jessica Bennett’s Feminist Fight Club, where she describes how she persistently asked and eventually got her dream job.

Network and build emotional intelligence.

Making an effort to meet new people and broadening our networks is important because men do it often without even trying. And this affects the majority of us, as up to 50% of all positions are recruited through informal processes, such as employee referrals. We need to get into more circles to be recognized when formal hiring processes aren’t built or followed. This also applies to internal networks in the company. We need to join the informal After Works and office gatherings, to be able to build the same connections to our colleagues and superiors, something that is more natural for our male colleagues when the majority of senior positions are held by men.

We also need to check our vocabularies. Today is the day we stop using words like “sorry”, “just”, “only”, “little”, “maybe” and “if I may”. Research shows that we undermine our message by using these words and many like them. I constantly try to re-read my emails before I send them and I use this Gmail plug-in to help me, and I have colleagues at work who help me keep track of my phrasing in meetings.

Decide what fights are worth fighting.

Even though we’re passionate about change and value equality in all aspects of diversity, it’s not the only thing we like to talk about. Sometimes it can be tiring to get into every single fight about these things, being it the previous American election or where the line is supposed to be drawn in that grey area. I’ve always thought that this fight, the one for gender equality in the workplace, was worth fighting, but quietly and in my own bubble. However, just before I published my first article, I realized I was tired of not seeing any change happen. So I decided to fight it publicly. I’m doing it to make you feel you can fight too. And I’m doing it for those who can’t fight it themselves. I’m fighting the big fight for my friends, my colleagues, my future daughters and granddaughters. And I fight my fight for me. Because it’s just as important!

“Let’s speak up about the problems, but let’s not forget that our actions speak louder than words.”

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