In the past months my work has been focusing more and more on the empowerment and development of women. And it has become a topic I feel incredibly passionate about.
Because I can relate to it myself all too well.
On more than one occasion I have been the only female in an all-male leadership team. Often that was not much of an issue. Until the moments where it was. The moments where you are somehow singled out for being a woman. When it’s no longer about your skills, but about you being a woman.
For instance, the time when my CEO was consequently referring to my HR team to as the “Hen House” – degrading us all to chickens instead of the HR professionals that we were.
Or when I was an HR Director, being sent out from a Leadership meeting to buy “something female” for the CEO’s assistant. What, like tampons?
And what to think about the advice I got from a female executive, to just “use my female charm” to influence my regional VP? Is that the kind of role model we need?
And, unfortunately, those few occasions when a senior leader tried to kiss me or asked me to come up to his hotel room. Really?
At those moments I did not feel I was being valued for my professional skills. I was merely seen and treated as a woman.
Equally interestingly is to reflect on how I dealt with those moments. I did not speak up.
While I was certainly not raised in a traditional role-model family, I did tend to respond in a “traditional” way. Smile, stay kind and save the situation without anyone losing face.
But not speaking up did not mean it had no impact on me. It had, big time. I lost trust in leaders I had looked up to. I doubted myself and my ability to judge people and situations. I blamed myself for letting it happen and for not speaking up. It made me think and feel less about myself.
Truth is that, even growing up with a quite independent, feminist mother who was certainly not afraid to speak up, we cannot have enough good role models in our work environment to help us to judge situations correctly and to feel confident enough to speak up.
This is why I am so passionate about this part of my work. Relating back to my own experience and struggle, I can now help young, talented women to gain more confidence and speak up in those defining moments. To let them experience the feeling: I am worth protecting my boundaries, my self-worth, and my professionalism.
I am worth to speak up.