Monday, July 7, 2008

Women in The Workplace - Where are we?

My parents never raised me to be humble. My mother successfully taught me the difference between compassion and humility, and that in order to interact with people you need not resort to the stereotypical or cliche behaviors 'expected' of your gender. Neither parent believed that a girl should be or act in particular ways. Dresses were as good as pants and being a doctor was just as good as being a ballerina. Mine was a fairly gender-neutral upbringing that was focused on intelligence, accomplishment, cultural exposure, travel and exploitation of opportunity. This is possibly why I got my first real job at 12 and by 15 was an entrepreneur in my local community.

Now at 30 years old and faced with the realization that we have, possibly, moved backwards in our efforts to equalize the workplace, I can see why many people have such a hard time with my personality. It's not that of a typical woman's. Well, it is and it isn't. See, I have met and worked for some pretty shrewd women who would successfully destroy your career if you even dared to tell them to 'soften up' or 'smile more'. But these women were in positions of critical power. They worked for industries that actually required one to draw strict lines between the personal and business. The ones that required you make a direct point. The ones that require you to remove 99% of the bullshit (aka 'being nice') and get the damn job done.

I am tough. I am intense. I am candid and dislike transparency. I don't think 'flare' defines a person, but I think their integrity does. I think this world is in desperate need of more people with more integrity. I think that people are, inherently, intolerant of things they are not used to and that it is especially apparent when applied to unique individuals.

There are many people who are repeatedly misunderstood in this world. They are usually the bright, the driven, the strong and the wise. The are labeled 'arrogant', 'passionate' (yes, this is quickly becoming a bad word in HR), 'closed off' and 'holier-than-thou'.

I heard a line from a TV show that stirred both laughter and a sense of sadness in me. After an artistic hissy fit, the Pope commented on Leonardo Devinci as "We forgive him because he is brilliant. Whatever that means..."

Exactly. Brilliance takes many forms, but no one person is the same. The work place is becoming less and less tolerant of the traits of the brilliant except in a few certain professions and a few certain positions. For example, my experience in media and advertising is that if you are (1) male *and* (2) a 'creative' or 'technical genius' than all personality flaws are welcome, excused and forgiven. If, however, you are in management and are a woman then you had better expect that you must always be brilliant, always be nice and always be what people expect.

Here's my belief: the innovators, the reformers, the leaders of change.....they pissed people off. They had to in order to shake things up. In order to get people to see a new perspective and challenge what we understand to be true. Because we know that very few truths today will be the truths of tomorrow.

So, here's the deal with me. No, I am not a water cooler conversationalist and my desk does not have flare. I keep my personal life at home as much as possible and I think that my job at work is to do my job. I know when to be thankful and and I know when to be truthful. I will always pick kindness-when-needed over niceness-when-expected. My intelligence and need to express it is as much a part of me as is breathing. I may be direct and, sometimes, strict, but I also am known to be incredibly generous when it is appropriate to do so.

I am different. So are many, many women who, like me, get asked for an unequal exchange: all of your talent for none of our understanding. Add on top of that the long-standing, general inequities that still exist for women in the workplace and you have quiet a little predicament, that leads many of us strong women to become more bitter from the exploitations of our talents and more saddened by our inability to just be shown a little more understanding and a little less lecturing.

In the end, I only know one thing. I should have been a fucking lawyer.

-this is kate pendley signing off.

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