Early in my career, I faced a lot of insecurities. It was so easy to deflate my confidence. In one of my first Human Resources jobs, we hired a contractor who it was my responsibility to train. It was so hard to get him to take me seriously. If I was stern with him he would make pms jokes. If I was gentle with him, he would dominate our time together and he wouldn’t learn how to do the job. He loved to talk about this job being beneath him because he just graduated from the University of Michigan. But, I had the same degree from Ohio State University, a comparable (if not better) school. And I was in the same job that was so beneath him and grateful for it. I couldn’t figure out how to crack his privileged persona and get him to listen to me.
Confidence in the gutter, I went to my boss and explained that our contractor was making sexist jokes and I didn’t think I could train him. If we had to keep him, we would need a man to train him because he just won’t listen to a woman. My boss, who hired this contractor because he was related to an executive she was trying to shmooze, told me that I had no choice. I was the best in this role and he should learn from the best.
I had to find a way to train him. I had to find a way to get the job done.
Listening and Adapting
Trying to convince a sexist person that you are not only qualified to train him, but in a position of authority over him is like trying to convince him that a dog is his trainer. He doesn’t view you as an equal. So how do you convince a human that what he thinks is a dog is actually also a human?
Listen and adapt.
No, I am not suggesting you change who you are or lose any bit of the feisty woman spirit that you had to work your life for. But instead, get him to see and respect that spirit. Start by listening. Dr. Jack Zenger in Margaret Heffernan’s article “Yes, Women Make Better Leaders” says, “Women are better listeners, better at building relationships and more collaborative and that, he argues, makes them better adapted to the demands of modern leadership.” Flex those listening skills to find out what actually matters to him.
Once you know what matters, adapt your style. In my case that meant, I had to dig beyond the chauvinism and figure out what mattered to Mark (not his real name). Mark liked to talk about football. So I decided I would try to train him in football analogies. This meant that I had to do a ton of research as I knew nothing about football. But this is part of adapting. I was willing to grow my own knowledge to overcome this obstacle.
We Are Better Communicators
After my crash course on football, I had come up with some pretty great connections to my training agenda. I was ready to teach Mark how to do his job and I was armed with sports metaphors galore. When we sat down and started talking. Anytime he tried to dominate conversation with sports talk, I could easily shift us back to training with football transitions. As much as Mark tried, I could always steer him back on course. Finally, we were getting somewhere.
I masterfully moved our conversations to achieve my goal. I was a better communicator. Not only that, but women are better communicators than men. A recent study found that women have 30% more language proteins in their brains than men. Our brains are wired to to talk and convey our points clearly. Mark didn’t stand a chance.
We Are Empathetic
Look, Mark’s not a bad guy. He is just a product of our patriarchal society. Yeah he shouldn’t have talked down to me or treated me like I was less than him. But, I truly believe he didn’t know he was doing it. I can empathize because I have said plenty of ignorant shit in the past because I didn’t know enough yet. Hopefully, after working with me, Mark now knows better and will be more open to women in leadership as he continues his career.
Being able to empathize with Mark made it possible for me to try in the first place. I could see beyond the “jokes” to a someone who was just a person like me. Women are better empathizers. According to this article in Psychology Today, men are evolutionarily more focused on systemizing while women are focused on empathizing. That is not to say that either sex couldn’t flex to be better in either category. But, women have an empathetic advantage. We are willing to understand and relate to you. Making us more likely to not give up on developing you.
When I originally went to my boss, ready to give up, it took little prodding to get me back at it. Mark was a recent graduate, like myself, who needed to learn how to exist in the corporate world. It was a tough adjustment for me too. I could relate and this helped me to believe I could make a difference in his career.
We Know How To Break The Glass Ceiling
As a kid I loved the Sound Of Music. Specifically, the impact Maria had on the strict von Trapp family. I admired her. I wanted to be her. If Maria could soften George von Trapp’s military heart and take on the Nazis, then what couldn’t she do? If Maria could Climb Every Mountain, then why not me?
Women know how to achieve success against the odds. You can take someone like Maria who could have just been a regular nanny and instead she started the the Trapp Family Singers. It doesn’t matter what situation we are pigeon holed into, we will find a way to shatter the glass ceiling and succeed. Despite common business issues like old boys networks and job segregation there are still 22 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. While that isn’t much, it is a testament to our will. Nothing can keep a good woman down. Not even the patriarchy.
Women in leadership know how to get things done despite obstacles because
- We listen and adapt
- We are better communicators
- We can empathize
- We know how to succeed against all odds
Where are my lady leaders? What have you had to overcome to shatter the glass ceiling? Let us know in the comments!