March 8 is International Women’s Day! The 2021 theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world,” says the International Women’s Day website.
As I reflect on equality in the workplace, it reminds me of advice given to me and judgments made of me during my career. On this day, I choose to challenge those bits of advice and those bits of judgment that made me question my action or feel not enough. To express my thoughts, I decide to delve into a couple of stories.
The first of my stories focus on caring for oneself. As women, we take on quite a bit of caregiving. We care for the house and our families, but sometimes we forget to care for ourselves. About 14 years into my career, I worked more hours than I would care to admit, and my health was waning. I had gained weight, and I was not eating well. With the encouragement and support of a female friend, I found a diet and started working out. I lost weight then added some endurance to my health portfolio. Through the years, I’ve found a way to maintain these habits, and I admit that some times in my life I’m more successful than others. It was a win until others judged me. I had taken a role in an office building with a gym. I thought this was great. The visibility of my habits led to judgment. I received feedback that others, some in leadership, were questioning if I were committed to my role. The statements were, “She must be an 8-hour a day employee if she has time to workout. She is not exceptional talent. etc.” I could not believe that people that didn’t even know me were passing judgment for doing something healthy. First, I was trying to maintain a healthy me mentally and physically. Second, these people did not know me, nor did they know I would put in extra time almost every evening. The judgment angered me, and it made me feel guilty. I altered some of my workout hours initially but eventually returned to what worked for me. My motto: If the workplace doesn’t accept me as I am, I need to find another workplace. In a proper #choosetochallenge manner, do not judge women for their healthy habits, and stop judging other women if you do not even know them!
The second of my stories focuses on suffering. Suffering? You may say. Are we still suffering? I found and continue to find myself taking on more and more work, which led to more and more hours. I felt I needed to do this to show I was capable of keeping up with my co-workers. It was my way of suffering. Based on the advice I was receiving, I had not suffered enough to lead in certain functions. [Side Notes: Advice is advice, and advice can change based on who is giving the advice. We need to decide which advice requires taking to heart and which you set to the side. Take care not to set aside only to create your echo chamber.] “Sorry, you can not lead in that function because you had not lived (suffered) the lower-level roles in the function.” For many years, I felt this was the only way. Now I would argue while considering equity; we may need to remember some of us were not given the opportunity of these lower-level experiences. We may also want to take into account that some skills are transferable from function to function. More importantly, why do we want people to suffer? Don’t we want to make the workplace better for fellow women?! Challenge these old ways of thinking that you must have suffered the ranks to be right for the job.
Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day and #ChoosetoChallenge unfair judgment and #ChoosetoChallenge suffering as the only way to job progression. As usual, please share your thoughts because an interactive audience enables learning for us all.