Most of my professional life has been in male dominated industries and I’ve never thought, “I can’t do that because I am a woman.”
I owe my parents a great deal of credit. Growing up it never occurred to me that women were treated differently in the workforce. I have known always that I have every right to choose my life and career path. I must thank my parents profusely for always supporting me, never trying to hold me back, to over-protect me, or judge me as I made career choices. They were my first empowerment coaches and they made all the difference for me. From construction sales, to entrepreneurship in construction and cycling, to consulting/investing, and now teaching entrepreneurship in a large university, I have been surrounded by mostly men at work. I have had many wonderful experiences and have had fantastic co-workers/bosses, but I have also seen the ugly side of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. This week I realized that every professional woman I have ever met has a story about gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment. The strength my parents instilled in me in my formative years helped me to be resilient and move past the unpleasant times and people to keep striving for my goals. Unfortunately, there are many women that were not empowered early in their lives and careers. A wonderful friend of mine and fellow entrepreneur, Charli Matthews, saw the need to empower ALL women and launched a fantastic organization, Empowering Women in Industry. The inaugural annual conference just occurred in Chicago and I was humbled to be part of the fantastic program.
The need to empower women is REAL. I heard story after story after story from very successful women about times that men had treated them unfairly. I believe every one of them because I have several stories of my own. The narratives all have similar themes and can be narrowed down to two categories. They either fit into gender discrimination or sexual harassment. Within each of the categories the stories can be grouped generally based upon the behaviors that occurred.
Gender discrimination stories:
- You don’t belong here because you’re a girl. This is not a woman’s job.
- SHE won’t be able to do ….
- You’re not paid as much as him because…
- Completely being ignored, no eye contact, or trivializing comments.
- Not being considered for jobs and/or being passed over for promotion.
The sexual harassment stories are disturbing because true and lasting harm has come to many women. I’m purposely excluding stories about sexual assault from this blog for many reasons and only including narratives of verbal sexual harassment.
Verbal sexual harassment stories:
- You’re too pretty to have a job like this.
- Back-handed comments (i.e. I thought you were just another pretty face but you know what you’re doing.)
- Blunt statements about our looks and/or clothing.
- Sexual innuendo.
- Assumptions that women were successful because of who they have or were going to have sex with.
As I said earlier, EVERY professional woman I have met has at least one story that fits into one of the above categories. This above list is not meant to be all inclusive but does represent the numerous stories I heard in a short 8-hour time period. It is time that women have a voice that is valued for its contribution. Until recently, there has been no safe place for women to congregate to talk about these issues, to support each other, and to develop tools and strategies to persevere. In the last several years we have seen the birth of fantastic organizations such as Lean In, Dress for Success, Girl Up, Pink Petro, and Empowering Women in Industry that are handling the issues women face in a productive and empowering manner. The increase in the number of supporting organizations and movements such as #metoo indicate that indeed women are feeling more empowered.
The energy I experienced this week at the Empowering Women in Industry conference and gala was electrifying! There was no whining or complaining. The conversation was pragmatic and matter of fact, acknowledging that woman had been treated unfairly. It was as if you could see the weight lift from the women’s shoulders as they were given a safe place to have a voice. But I didn’t hear #metoo. Rather I heard, “what can we do to help you?” It was so refreshing! This is the first time I’ve been in an environment surrounded by only professional women. Every attendee wanted to help and empower every person around them. We felt free to dress and feel beautiful because we knew there would be no repercussions. Charli was so smart to have hair and make-up artists there for free for any attendee wanting to indulge. We discussed how to develop our personal brands, overcome limiting beliefs, and learned to do the Rosie Shuffle! Ultimately, we made new, life-long, soul sister friendships! (Pics below to show you a few of my new, beautiful friends!)
It is time that all women find a group that helps to empower them in a productive manner that lends support, teaches effective tools, and provides encouragement so that everyone feels free to reach for their goals.
I am full of gratitude that I have found my tribe, but I am left with a haunting question. Who is helping to encourage and educate men to understand and accept the new role of women in the workplace? True woman empowerment won’t occur until that is addressed as well.
-Gina Simpson is a certified professional coach and founder of Soluna Strategies. If you are interested in working with Gina to reach your full potential and find SERENE SUCCESS, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.