A letter to young professional women in the 'Age of Trump'
When I was your age, I thought it was over. My mother was a feminist, so I wanted to call myself anything but a feminist. And anyway, I seemed pretty welcome at work. Even though it was Wall Street, my analyst class was about a third women. We weren't just on our way - we'd arrived.
But then…there were the inappropriate pictures left on my desk. The guy miming a sex act when my back was turned. I wasn't given the great assignments; the more senior woman I worked with was likewise dismissed as "lightweight" (and, lest you think that might have been true, that woman was Safra Catz, now the co-President of Oracle). Then the women started to fall away in their 30s…more in their 40s. But the worst of it, I thought was over.
And now Trump has made it clear to everyone that the battle for us women is not over.
I can't stop thinking about this and what we can / should do:
Remember that gender bias in the workplace is not a thing of the past.I'm sorry if I didn't act when I should have. I thought we had left sexism behind us by the time I was in more senior roles. After all, we had complaint hotlines and diversity plans and requirements for diverse slates of candidates for every job. But now I'm remembering one of the members of the senior leadership team who would kiss younger women on the cheek at the beginning of meetings. Creepy, right? I now wonder what was being said when I wasn't in that room.
Ask tough questions, and call the guys out when necessary. I recently asked my best guy friend: "Do guys really talk like Donald Trump and Billy Bush behind closed doors?" His response: "No, but…" And the "but" was that the conversations are more along the lines of: "Boy, she has great legs," or "she's a looker" or "Whew. Wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole." When I asked him how he responded to this, he said he didn't say anything; after all, he has to work with these folks.
But so do we. And breaking us down to our body parts or our appearance dehumanizes us in some way. Maybe it's only in some small way. But it's clear that for some years, we (and by we, I mean I) were likely too complacent about the inevitability of gender progress in the workplace and relaxed perhaps just a bit too much.
If you're in a bad work situation, it's ok to quit. So many women think that it's a "failure" if you quit your job; and you know how hard we females take failure. But sometimes it's not us: it's them.
I recently left the board of a non-profit that I LOVE. I had been on it for years (and years). At nearly every meeting I asked how much we were spending on our investment managers, in comparison to the return we were getting. Meeting after meeting I was told that the answer was complex, it was hard to calculate, it would take a lot of work - and why did it matter anyway? It was really the net returns that matter, regardless of how much we paid for them. And then, last spring, before I could bring up the topic, one of the men did; and all the other guys eagerly agreed with him, that we need to keep an eye on fees because those are really all we can control.
I quit the next week.
Life is too short, and I can have a lot more impact with the week-a-year I get back instead of being ignored in meetings.
I know not everyone is in the position to quit; I wasn't earlier in my career. So the onus is also on those of us who are more senior to be more supportive of women who leave these situations. I am hopeful that an outcome of this election will be greater understanding of this.
Get yourself a senior, successful - preferably female - mentor, who can help you navigate the politics of your company. This includes the gender politics. Can't find one on your own? Speak to HR about helping you find one; this is their job, after all.
Your company doesn't have a senior, successful female? Get the hell out of there.
Do your best to make sure that your success is quantified. Be it a sales goal, a client satisfaction rating, an output metric, a quality target. Numbers count here because they're black-and-white, cut-and-dried. Were you successful or not? I recommend this even if you work in a "normal" company, because implicit gender biases and expectations still exist for all of us.
Think about starting your own thing. This is what's exciting; we have the ability to start our own businesses today, in a way we didn't in the past. Why not take our marbles to our own playgrounds and build great businesses and cultures? Our mothers couldn't do this because the cost was so high - but the costs of everything-about-starting-a-business, including technology, people (i.e., freelancers), real estate (co-working spaces) and support services are coming down. And then no one can relegate you to the less-interesting jobs.
I am going to go out of my way to support other women. It's clear now: we can't do this alone. Another woman who is promoted or celebrated or funded clears the way for another. I am actively looking to buy from women-owned businesses, which is much easier these days - Outdoor Voices, Nasty Gal and Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women, I know I'm a broken record on this topic. But men invest to a greater extent than women do, and it costs us. Indeed, I believe investing is the money is the real key to gender equality.
This post was originally published on LinkedIn.