Story on Women in the Workplace
City: Los Angeles
Industry: Health Research
I learned mediocre-white-man confidence.
I grew up with the wonderful idea that I could do anything. My dad was a feminist, probably without even knowing what that word meant; he raised both my brother and I to be brave, rugged, and assertive toward people in power. He taught us to ride motorcycles and drive a stick shift, never acknowledging the question of whether I could do something as a girl.
When I started working, my dad's advice was always to stand up for myself and get a seat at the table. Sexism felt far away, something that existed in the news, but that I didn't see happen around me regularly.
Fast-forward to graduate school. Katherine and Clinton were classmates of mine in our Education Policy program. Katherine was the girl you hoped would come to study sessions – she was lightning smart, prepared, and held everyone to high standards with her probing questions. Clinton was the guy you hoped stayed home – and usually did, only dropping in once in a while without ever knowing what we were studying.
In class, when Katherine spoke, it was behind scrunched shoulders, a whisper of "Um", "I'm sorry", "Well, maybe" and "But I don't really know." Girl, you ABSOLUTELY know! I would think to myself. What was going on? Then there was Clinton, riding into class like he was a warrior going to battle, power-posing, speaking with never-ending authority, and spouting THE MOST bullshit. Surely our professors will catch on, I thought.
I was wrong. Professors started doubting Katherine more and more, and inviting Clinton into the academic "Old Boys' Club." Once I noticed this pattern, I saw it happen over and over again. Incredible women doubting themselves at every turn while working their asses off, and mediocre men swooping in with overconfidence and under-preparation. And people in power continuously reinforced this dynamic.
So, here's what I've decided for myself, and the advice I would give my own daughter (while I teach her how to catch snakes and ride motorcycles): We still live in a world full of "Old Boys' Clubs" so when you're at work, enter a room with the confidence of a mediocre white man. Demand your seat at the table. Speak with authority. But also, help other women find their warrior voices.