We’ve come a long way since the days of the suffragettes (thankfully). Women have the right to vote, drive a car, and wear trousers. We can even open a bank account on our own. These are heady times.
Jokes aside, while it’s good to remember how far we’ve come, it’s equally important to recognize that there’s still progress to be made. Being a female entrepreneur in today’s world is easier than it once was, but while your gender is no longer an impediment, the old boys’ club is still a thing.
Granted, for the most part, it’s not malicious. However, that doesn’t detract from the fact that judgment according to gender rather than merits is incredibly frustrating.
I’ve run my own communications agency since 2008 and during that time have had occasion to meet with a great many businessmen and women.
The one thing I’ve realized is that, as a woman in business, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself face to face with old school sexism. The attitude is usually not intended to be condescending (that’s just how some guys roll), but that’s no excuse and you need to know how to deal with it.
We’ve all been there. You’re in a business meeting and the men talk over you, or worse, they only stop their banter long enough to ask if you’re planning to quit work when you have kids.
The easy way out is to keep quiet or laugh it off. We women are hardwired not to cause a fuss, after all. It might be uncomfortable, but don’t just accept this kind of behavior. It’s your career we’re talking about, and it deserves to be taken seriously, as do you.
Taking a stand takes guts, but it gets easier the more you do it. Trust me. For now, these four pointers will help.
4 Ways to Earn The Respect You Deserve As a Woman In The Workplace
1. Dress For Success
Wouldn’t it be great if men judged us on character instead of wardrobe? Sadly, this is not the case. While men can get away with wearing jeans and hoodies and still be taken seriously, women cannot.
We need to find a balance between business and feminine. For us, casual isn’t an option. If you want your employees to treat you like the boss, you need to dress like one. That’s not to say you have to suit up – nor does it mean dressing in a way that makes you uncomfortable.
Dressing for success is not the same as dressing to impress. As a female entrepreneur with her own company – you’re already impressive. Go for something that depicts you as confident and professional, but that’s also you.
2. Let Them Know Who’s in Charge
It doesn’t happen every time, but I’ll often arrive at a client meeting with an employee and be ignored or spoken to in a condescending tone while they direct all business questions at my staff member just because he’s male.
It’s annoying, but not entirely surprising. Female entrepreneurs might be ubiquitous in some circles, however, in certain industries we’re still very much the novel minority. Men have dominated the enterprise and commerce arena for centuries and as such, many of them have been conditioned to only view other men as equals.
Talking to your staff members instead of you is the result of an unconscious bias. Normally, pointing this out will leave them suitably embarrassed. In this instance, a subtle correction should suffice.
Occasionally they’ll carry on regardless (maybe they’re stubborn or maybe their bias is deeper than you initially realized). Whatever the case, it’s time to correct them with a little more force. If they try to call you bossy to downplay their actions, take it as a compliment. You are the boss, after all!
Don’t back down. Getting to where you are has taken a lot of hard work and at the very least you deserve acknowledgment as their peer.
3. Talking Over You Is a Big No No
It isn’t easy to become an expert at something. Likewise, building a company from the ground up doesn’t happen in a failsafe vacuum. You can read all the business books you want, but ultimately nothing can beat the real-world experience of success and failure. In other words, you obviously know your stuff.
You need to remember that when someone tries to talk over you the next time you’re in a meeting. People do this for different reasons, but ultimately it’s easier to interrupt them politely and try and engage them in a discussion – rather than just sit and listen to their monologue. Remember though, just because they don’t know everything, doesn’t mean that you do.
Always be open to discussing new ideas and new ways of doing things. Be friendly and polite, but whatever you do, don’t let them get away with explaining something you already know. That’s pushing things too far.
4. Know When It’s Time To Walk Away
Everyone has their limits. Know what yours are and make sure you don’t ignore them. For many women, being submissive is our default. It’s part and parcel of who we are and suffering slights and indignities is merely an extension of that.
It’s time to stop this cycle once and for all and, to put it bluntly, that means not putting up with any of that sexist nonsense. For female entrepreneurs, self-belief is as necessary as oxygen. However, just like nobody can breathe for you, believing in yourself is also an inside job.
It’s understandable that you’ll be defensive in new business meetings, but it’s always preferable to go in with the assumption that you’re dealing with a reasonable person. Most people are reasonable and besides, many misunderstandings are small and easy to resolve.
Of course, you’re always going to get that one prospective client who is boorish, condescending and just plain unpleasant to be around. They’re unlikely to change regardless of your approach. Remind yourself that they’re not worth the effort – no matter how much money is on the table.
At the end of the day, you need to know when to walk away (or run, as the case may be). You can’t attach a number to your self-worth, so if someone isn’t giving you the respect you deserve, head for the door.
Latest posts by Heather Baker (see all)
- 4 Ways to Earn The Respect You Deserve As a Woman In The Workplace - April 21, 2017
- 3 Reasons Why IRL (In Real Life) Networking Still Kicks Butt - October 21, 2016