As an ex-computer science major, I know the struggle of being a woman in a man’s world—coding is about as male-dominated as it gets. So when I learned of an opportunity to attend a workshop entitled “Gaining Respect as a Female Professional,” I jumped at it. What did I learn? Here’s a little recap of some of the more poignant points:
– Achieving credibility involves controlling and manipulating other people’s impressions of you.
– Women need to reign-in those high voices of theirs. Why? Because “a high voice does not sound as smart as a low voice.”
– There are some corporate environments in which women just shouldn’t wear pants. It’s not in the company policy or anything—that would be sexist—but watch out if you’re female and donning what the man of the family really should be wearing.
– “Little people need to wear some sort of heel.” And something tells me this rule doesn’t apply to men.
– If you wear a spiked heel, “it makes you look trampy.”
– “Be aware of what you look like and what you can enhance.” But don’t focus on being attractive, just focus on appearing “present” (i.e. wear make-up, just don’t cake on too much).
– “This does not take a lot of work.”
Um, ok, cool—now that my body’s credible, let’s move on to what’s more important, my mind and my expertise! Right?
That’s as far as the workshop went, and I don’t remember hearing the words “intelligent” or “experience” once, unless used in a manner such as, “Wear glasses to make yourself look more intelligent or get ready to experience the pain of never advancing in your career!”
I wish I were exaggerating—I’m not. However, I caution you, do not read this piece as critical towards Michele Souda, the woman who ran the workshop, because it’s not. Trust me, Souda knows her stuff: she knows what it takes for a woman to get recognized as competent in a professional environment, and she will tell you straight-up how it is.
Yep, Souda knows her stuff, and that’s what so sad about all of this—every point listed above is dead-on.
A recent Gallup poll revealed that while 40 percent of Americans have no preference as to the gender of their boss, 35 percent would prefer a male boss to a female boss while only 23 percent would prefer a female to a male. It pains me that that should even be a question nowadays; I would have hoped the results would have been 100 percent of people saying: “I don’t base my judgments on the competency of a boss on his or her gender, but rather on his or her previous experience, how he or she treats his or her employees, the manner in which he or she conducts him-or-herself…” I think you get my point.
We live in a society saturated with gender norms, and unfortunately, those norms dictate that one’s appearance reflects on one’s credibility. As the above poll proves, even though women are bending over backwards to construct powerful and authoritative images, it’s not working.
What’s worse is the reality that “this does not take a lot of work.” Forget years of education and working your way up in the world. Intellectual and experiential competency mean nothing compared to what, as even Souda admits, can be learned in a day.
So I’d like to rewrite this workshop, renaming it “Gaining Respect: A Three Step Guide for Every Person Out There.”
It goes a little something like this:
- Do what you love when you can, and when you can’t, do what you need to do to get back to doing what you love.
- Do it all to the best of your ability.
- Respect others.
I realize this is idealized, and I realize that things won’t change overnight. Implicit judgments are ingrained into us—it’s just how it is. Yet, while I can’t hope for a sweeping change, I don’t think I’m asking for too much if I hope for this: that every once in a while, when a judgment arises in one of us based on nothing but superficial
characteristics, we recognize it, take a good look at it, and then knock it down. It may not happen often, and it may not always end in success, but every time one of us wins that little battle against shallow judgment, society moves a bit closer to a world beyond appearances.
But while we’re waiting on that, we can all work towards a far more tangible, and far more important, goal: gaining respect for ourselves.
Because honestly, if you have that, who else’s respect do you really need?