As Alexandra Petri said, “‘Woman in a Meeting’ is a language of its own.” (Did you know she was a keynote for #ELGL17? Just think of what is coming up for #ELGL19!) If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being a woman in a meeting, you know that it’s never just what you say – it’s how you say it, when you say it, whom you say it to, what you were wearing when you said it, etc. Rare are the opportunities to exist in a space where your feedback, your contributions are taken without the weight of your gender.
I recently experienced this in a meeting with coworkers. One of my coworkers (male) said I was being “adversarial” and that I had come into the meeting with a “chip on my shoulder.” The meeting was tense – I was asking for things that they weren’t comfortable giving, I’m still relatively new, and in their eyes, expectations from our office continue to change.
At the time, I took a deep breath, reminded myself that we were on the same team, and apologized if I had implied any ill will. The meeting continued, and I seethed about it later. When I told a friend about the interaction, I described the way I felt in the meeting and the way my male coworker had been speaking over me, speaking loudly, and purposefully misunderstanding me. After I described it, she said, “It sounds like you were just copying his traits.”
And I realized I had been, but I was doing it as a woman, which is clearly more startling and offensive.
A good friend told me a similar story where a male coworker took her aside after a meeting and asked her to be “nicer” to another male who has a history of being socially awkward and inappropriately blunt in meetings. To my knowledge, no one took the awkward, inappropriate coworker aside to say anything similar. My friend works at NASA and should be doing literal ROCKET SCIENCE instead of massaging social situations for men who can’t be bothered or expected to be bothered.
If you haven’t already read it, Ashley Wooten’s amazing piece on microaggressions lays this out with far more optimism and patience than I have.
In it, she reminds us that even though our experience with these situations, whether it’s an inappropriate hair touch or a seemingly innocuous request to be “nice,” may not happen every day, it still amounts to TRAUMA. And we’re all responsible for creating a safe, supportive, non-traumatizing environment for our team.
I am clearly not speaking for the whole of female existence here, so please don’t take this as gospel. See for yourself! If you’re a woman, watch how you couch things, how you may rephrase or soften your language.
Watch how those you speak to react to what you say or the way you say it. If you are not a woman, watch the roles that your female coworkers play.
Pay attention to who gets interrupted, whose voice is louder, how ideas are considered and whether or not your first response is to rationalize any of these differences.
We ARE all on the same team, and while it is incumbent on me to take a stand as I am able in the face of these situations, it is also incumbent on my team to create a space where I feel safe.
So if you’re reading this thinking, maybe this isn’t my experience or she really should have done something differently or I’m sure they didn’t mean it, think about whose team you’re on and whether you’re doing everything you can to make them feel like they belong.