I am sure you can relate with me when I say that the head count of men in relation to women in the majority of work places is highly “in favour” of men. Furthermore, the further a woman advances in her career, the fewer female colleagues of equal or higher ranking she encounters. Personally, I can only recall a few instances at work related meetings, in which women were the majority attendees. Ever hear the term “the best offense is a good defense”? I am not too sure who coined this term but it used to be one of my work place mantras.
For as long as I can remember, I have been told and read that women entering the workplace are at an immediate disadvantage because it is a male dominated arena. Therefore, in order to survive and advance women need to be smarter and do more than the average male in order to prove themselves. Though I have learned a lot in my career to date, I laugh about the phases I went through and approaches I utilized in an attempt to survive and excel in the work place. They just seem so NOT ME, which is ridiculous! Entering into the workplace, my first tactic in an attempt to get ahead, was to act like a man or what I refer to as the “bra burning” phase.
The bra burning (well…not really) phase
Coming out of university and entering the workplace, I recall the numerous conversations I would have with my friends about what our lives shall be at home and work. We were so “tough”, talking about how we were not going to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by men in the work place or at home. We would discuss and debate different scenarios and were all about being the “bra burning feminist” … or at least, what I thought was a “bra burning feminist”. With this mentality, I entered into the work place with a somewhat contradictory approach.
In my mind, men were the enemy so I thought that if was to act like a man in the workplace, I would be successful. Because I was in enemy territory, showing my emotions was out of the question. In addition, when I thought that I was being quite assertive, I was aggressive irrespective of how excellent my work was. In most cases, my aggression would be received with hostility. This seemed to be fine with me because in my mind, I had already expected a hostile work environment and I had the perfect approach to coping and eventually excelling.
As my career progressed, I began to travel into the rest of the African continent for work purposes and encountered even fewer women counterparts in the countries I visited. Ironically, the “delicate and innocent flower” phase began.
The delicate and innocent flower phase
Working on projects in various African countries for me, is and continues to be an enlightening and exciting experience. Though I love what I do entering this phase of my career I thought at the time, required a tactical change.
There is a moment in the Shakespearean play Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 5, page 3), where Lady Macbeth tells her husband to “Look like th’ innocent flower. But be the serpent under’t”.
In hindsight, I think I took Lady Macbeths words to heart without even knowing it. The previous approach of acting like a man, was not “working for me” any more. I found that when I was “assertive”, my male colleagues would physically cringe and were far less receptive to what I had to say. It really did not matter to them that I was in most cases, the most senior project officer working on the assignment. Progress was thus hard and extremely slow.
One day, I had the bright idea to change the way I was interacting with my male counterparts. I figured that if I was to act extra feminine, delicate and not that knowledgeable (at least tone it down) then I would be able to push my own agenda in subtle way and get the work done. Among other things, I would make my ideas seem as though my male counterparts came up with them by having leading conversations.
I must say that this tactic worked better than the bra burning one but it was exhausting! I was mentally and physically fried! It was such an effort to always be “the innocent and delicate flower” at work when most of my time was spent at work. There was therefore, very little time for me to let my hair down (literally and figuratively) and be myself, which made be extremely uncomfortable. I eventually decided to call it a day, I was tired of manipulative, disrespectful tactics in an attempt to “get ahead”, I just wanted to be myself.
As women, we often feel an immense pressure to act a certain way or do certain things in the work place in order to survive. I can tell you from first hand experience that if you give into this pressure, the opportunity cost is high. Switching your personality when you enter the work place, can be extremely cumbersome and very unhealthy.
Being myself in the workplace allows me to concentrate more, increased my productivity and has taken the hostility element away from my experiences.
I believe that in order to live the John 10:10 life, it is essential that you are yourself, wherever you may be. It clearly states in Matthew 6:
“26Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or save food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. Don’t you know you are worth much more than they are? 27You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it.”-
“30If God makes what grows in the field so beautiful, what do you think he will do for you?”
I encourage you to concentrate on your own talents that you have been given by God’s grace, and let Him do the rest. His plans for you are not to harm you but to prosper you …and you don’t have to be someone else to access this blessing!
About the Author
Gladys Chandia is a project manager and co-founder of Notable Beginnings Consulting (NBC). NBC provides business development and business linkages (FDI facilitation) services for companies that wish to penetrate new markets on the African continent. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org