Is It Really a Gender Thing?

While at a business conference this past weekend, I witnessed a comment from a fellow attendee that surprised me, and then irritated me.

The title of the presentation was “Why I Won’t Recruit You”.

The presentation centered on the reasons why hiring managers and recruiters will pass by an otherwise likely candidate during the hiring process. In other words, even if the resume is perfect, the education is up to snuff, and the work history is seamless and substantial, you might still get passed up if you do not exhibit specific qualities.

It was a great presentation during which I learned so much from a perspective I had not thought about.

Part of the presenter’s philosophy revolved around the concept of passion. You can be really good at what you do, but if you don’t have a passion for it, or a passion about you, there is much that is lost.

A question came up about whether it was acceptable for an interviewee to be smarter than the interviewer. The presenter replied that, when he is recruiting, one of the things he is looking for is candidates who are smarter than him. He recognized, though, that not every recruiter or hiring manager will approach an interview, or a potential candidate, from that perspective.

Sometime around this point, a woman in the back asked this question (and I am paraphrasing here): “How do you suggest women address the perception in the workplace that if they are passionate, forthright, aggressive, and smarter than their boss, that they are considered to be bitchy; whereas men with the same attitude are praised and honored.”

My first reaction was “Really?” I struggled with the aftershock of her question for the rest of the class as she continued to try to explain herself, and to elicit from the presenter an answer that would satisfy her.

If you are smart, good at what you do, respectful of others, and humble, why and how would going after what you want make you a bitch?

It wouldn’t. It is not you who is the bitch; it is the perception and behavior of other people that results in that judgement against you.

There is only one person you can control…that is you. You cannot account for how other people will perceive you, and you can control even less how others will treat you.

As a woman myself – and a forthright, independent, and decisive one at that – I can tell you that I believe that the enemy of women in the workplace is not men, nor society, but women themselves. At the risk of stereotyping women in the workplace, let me explain. I think that we, as women:

  • tend to second-guess our performance and our ability more often, and quicker, than men do.
  • struggle with how to be persuasive without being aggressive.
  • battle the need to be the peacemaker instead of the victor.
  • make choices from the viewpoint of the significant others in our lives, instead of ourselves, especially if we have children. When we try to put ourselves first, we feel guilty.
  • We are more willing to give instead of take.
  • are more willing to sacrifice.

These are our natural tendencies. Nature has already defined us.

However, when we engage the workforce, we labor under the pressure of fighting against that nature.

Some of us take that battle too seriously. We sequester our natural selves in a dark closet with a locked door, as we approach everything like we think a man would. We try to be something that we are not. Like the woman from the presentation, there is the foregone conclusion by some women, without any proof, that the “perception” is going to hamstring us. We leave our homes each day already swinging and risk the perception as an edgy, uber feminist who begins her day with a chip on her shoulder. And the rest is history.

Or, we discount ourselves before the start and assure ourselves that there is nothing we can do because the male workforce is already against us. The media says so.

I am not saying that women don’t have a few hurdles out there.

What I am saying is that how anyone performs in the workplace is entirely up to her. Those principles of behavior transcend gender. Women and men should strive to perform their jobs with strength, principle, professionalism, candor, intelligence, and humility. With these values in action, women and men can be respected equally by their peers and superiors.

It’s not a gender thing….it’s a human thing.

© 2010-2015 Kimberly Yoss. All rights reserved. No part of this online publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior approval from Kimberly Yoss.

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