A few years ago, African-American comedian Steve Harvey wrote self-help book entitled Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, supposedly a practical guide designed to help women to better understand the inner workings of their male partners, so that they could build more loving and satisfying relationships. Hmmm...okay.
While this partial piece of the title, “Think Like a Man” may seem like a rather odd selection for further reflection in a blog post, it’s not actually. Once you shift away from personal relationships as the focus and consider the twenty-first century digital and tech workplace, it becomes pretty clear that modern-day work spaces – even in the era of the “Me Too” movement, are still being dominated mostly by men. Add the intersections of race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, etc. to mix, and the questions surrounding representation, inclusivity and voice only complicates the matter further.
Who Should You Be At Work?
While many organizations like Girls in Tech, Women in Digital, We Shape Tech and Women Who Code are working to skill up women and hopefully put them in positions of leadership, their presence in leadership positions as a whole is far from parity. Further, it’s difficult to be seen, heard or followed at any level, when you are the “only” of any kind in a room.
So, the question becomes, how are you supposed to act in these situations? Should you “Act Like a Lady” ? as the title of the book also states? Or, should you “Think Like a Man” ? I reject both.
I addressed this issue last summer, while participating in a professional panel discussion around the future of digital work and communication. As I was finishing my presentation, an attendee stood up and asked me, “How can I better assert myself when I’m the only woman in a meeting? Should I act more like a man ?” My answer to her was: “No. Be you…’cause it’s enough”. Here’s why my answer matters.
When you work within an organization, lead a team, collaborate with partners, or hell, disagree with colleagues, you bring your whole, authentic self to the table – or at least, you should. It’s not about thinking like a man or a woman; but it is about using all the skills in your toolbox to ensure that you are being represented and what you are bringing to the table is worthy of consideration. So in the end, it’s not an act like a “man” or “woman” thing. It’s a “be you” thing. Organizations that recognize this and champion this way of being are already ahead of the game because diversity of thought, opinion and inclusivity are already built in.
Women In Power Empower Women
I’m a proud member of Generation X (I know, they don’t talk about us much anymore). I entered the digital domain during the “dot-com” era of the early 1990s, a time when it felt like the only women working in the space were the women in my office and the great Esther Dyson.
My attraction to the domain, at least in the early days, was that it felt like a space where I could be “me.” It was proof positive that they were other paths to success without trying to think and be a man.
Thankfully, my first start-up was owned by a woman and my immediate boss was also a woman. For me, this experience set the stage for how I knew I wanted to work in future positions. Start-ups always encourage creativity and self-initiation, but it was the way that we allowed ourselves as a team to be creative, in letting others lead and in seeking out diversity of thought and opinion that was different from any other work space that I’d ever known before. They allowed me to be “me”.
When I started my own digital company less than a decade later, all of my collaborators, partners, vendors (IT, Design, Accounting, Legal) and clients were all female. Just by staying open to possibilities and inclusion, we widened the diversity net also without even thinking about it. The most important reason why our experiment worked was because we allowed each contributor to be themselves. We let them be “them”.
A Safe Space To Be A Professional Woman
In 2019, I launched Simply Souperlicious a web platform and social community designed to convert veggie haters into lovers, one local, seasonal, homemade soup at a time. In February 2020, we’ll be launching “’Talk Soup’ with Simply Souperlicious” a monthly meetup where professional women can destress from their workday, share victories and challenges, network and hopefully find solutions while enjoying a nice bowl of soup.
Bottomline, it really doesn’t matter if you’re coming into a male-dominated space “acting“ like a man or woman. What does matter is the person who shows up, works hard, leads and collaborates with teams every day is the authentic “you“. There’s only one you, so when you enter those spaces, be you, give voice and shine like the brightest damn diamond in the room.