My siblings and I are first generation American born. Both my parents were born in Sicily, Italy, as were my aunts, uncles, grandparents and most of my extended family. Growing up in an Italian family, there were clearly double standards when it came to my brothers versus me and my sister. When it came to chores, the girls were responsible for the inside of the house (dusting, dishes, vacuuming, etc.), while they boys were responsible for all things outside the house (garbage, lawn, etc). My brother could go out until all hours of the night. I had a curfew. My brother could go away on vacation with his girlfriend. I could not go away with female friends or boyfriends. This was the norm. I fought it each day to no avail.
Fast forward, I joined corporate America and quickly encountered double standards and inequities there as well. Early on in my sales (recruiting) career, I found myself one of very few women among many men. Soon after I was hired, it came to my attention that my salary was 20% lower than my counterpart, a male, hired to do the same job, with similar qualifications. Thankfully, I experienced success early on so the salary became irrelevant. That said, over the years, I encountered several instances of inequities due to me being a woman. One occurrence I remember quite clearly. We had an international call scheduled. It was to include all the senior executives and the top 20 sales performers throughout the company. Not only was I the only woman but I was also the #1 sales producer in the group. About an hour before the call, one of my very senior managers called me on the phone. He recommended that “….given you are the only female on this call and your position of top biller…. I suggest you make yourself more approachable…..show vulnerability…..this will make the others (men) more comfortable with you…..”. This was the “career advice” I was given. Showing my vulnerability in the workplace then did not come natural to me, nor does it 15 years later.
I quickly became aware of how I was perceived and how I was labeled; Bitch, Unapproachable, Boss Lady, Cold Hearted and IceQueen, to name just a few. For quite some time, the names bothered me. I kept thinking of ways I could get people to “like me”. I wanted them to know that despite my success, I was a good and caring person. Eventually, I came to the realization that no matter what I said or how I said it, my success as a woman in this man’s world, would ensure these labels remained. Thankfully, I had my “AHA” moment. I decided to embrace the names and labels. For each negative name, I would just smile and say “thank you” . This took people by surprise. What they did not know is that I was no longer hearing “Bitch, Unapproachable, Boss Lady, Cold Hearted and Ice Queen”. On the contrary, I was hearing “successful, determined, focused, competitive, committed and strong.”
The article that I read which inspired this blog was To All Bitches Out There in the Workplace.