Here’s how several women gained respect at work — while they waited for the rest of the world to catch up.
Who run the world? Women.
Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shot back this week after Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a Florida gubernatorial candidate, referred to her as “this girl Ocasio-Cortez, or whatever she is” during a campaign event. “Rep DeSantis, it seems you‘re confused as to ‘whatever I am.’ I am a Puerto Rican woman,” the New York Democrat, 28, tweeted in response.
But it’s tough for women to get taken seriously when there are so few of them at the top. Women hold just one-fifth of the 535 congressional seats, 23% of statewide executive seats and 25% of state legislature seats, despite making up slightly more than half the U.S. population. They held only one in 10 top executive positions at U.S. companies in 2016-17, and get paid less than men. And gender inequality isn’t due to a difference in behavior, research has found — it’s due to bias.
Younger women have it even harder: A 2006 survey of employees found that discrimination on the basis of being “too young” was at least as common as that on the basis of being “too old.” Meanwhile, today’s millennials — aged 22 to 37, per Pew’s cutoff — have long been saddled with the generational stereotype of being lazy, narcissistic freeloaders.
Rep DeSantis, it seems you‘re confused as to “whatever I am.”
I am a Puerto Rican woman. It‘s strange you don’t know what that is, given that ~75,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida in the 10 mos since María.
But I’m sure these new FL voters appreciate your comments! https://t.co/xJlroSe5Hs
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) July 23, 2018
But the onus shouldn’t be on young women to make others take them seriously, women who spoke with Moneyish stressed. “It has to be on our colleagues in the workplace, it has to be on our employers, and it has to be on policymakers to get this right — to change this culture as we think about women in leadership,” said Kim Churches, 47, CEO of the equity and education nonprofit American Association of University Women. “It does take more of us working on this in a multi-pronged approach.”
And changing perceptions and minds isn’t always possible. “Whether you’re a new person running for Congress or you’re (California congresswoman) Maxine Waters, who’s been in the game for (decades), people will still call you a ‘girl’ or refer to you as though you are less senior,” labor attorney and diversity consultant Y-Vonne Hutchinson, 36, told Moneyish. “I don’t know if there’s anything a person can do … to make someone who’s biased against them take them seriously. Because the problem is not with how they’re presenting; the problem is with the person who sees them.”
The sad truth, Hutchinson added, is that “women just aren’t taken seriously as often — especially women of color.” “In certain spaces, I still don’t feel like I am taken seriously,” she said. “And when I look back on my career, I don’t think there was ever a point where I went from not being taken seriously to being taken seriously in the same way that my white and male colleagues did.”
Here are strategies that Hutchinson, Churches and other women of various ages say they’ve used to gain respect as young women:
Make sure the work you do is “visible.” Many women, particularly young women, get stuck with “tasks that require a lot of emotional or invisible labor,” Hutchinson said. “Those tasks are not necessarily going to be seen as evidence of your maturity or your competency.” (Research shows that women are more often asked to perform “non-promotable” work tasks, like office “housework,” and receive social pressure to oblige.) Churches says she has at times physically sat on her hands to resist getting up to pour the coffee.
Overprepare. Jennifer Lawless, the 43-year-old Commonwealth professor of politics at the University of Virginia, mounted an unsuccessful congressional primary bid in Rhode Island at age 30. And as a first-time candidate, she wanted to ensure “that people knew that I knew what I was doing.” So she studied stats and mastered issues that never even came up during the campaign — like establishing strong positions on NAFTA and wind farms, for example. “I don’t regret any of that,” she told Moneyish. “It imbued me with a sense of confidence so that I could speak to anybody about anything with a level of seriousness and facts that would mitigate … any concerns that people had about my lack of experience.”
Spin youth to your advantage. “When somebody wonders whether being young is a disadvantage, if your response can highlight how it might be an advantage, you can totally change the direction of the conversation,” Lawless said. “In my case, and frankly for all of the young candidates running for this cycle, the idea that the typical person in Congress right now is not somebody that’s young, and is not somebody that’s full of fresh ideas, can work as an asset to their own campaign.”
Turn the insult back to the person. Whitney Johnson, author of “Build an A-Team,” was mistaken in her 40s for her colleague’s assistant — after she was already an Institutional Investor-ranked analyst on Wall Street. So she said to him, “I really want to be taken seriously in the workplace. Could you help me understand what I may have done to have conveyed to you that I wasn’t professional? Was there something I did … that sent you the signal that I was his assistant?’” The man conceded he was “a dope” and apologized. “It actually led to a conversation,” Johnson said.
Be trustworthy. Raleigh-based human resources consultant Laurie Ruettimann, 43, is five feet tall and blonde. So as a human resources manager in her late 20s, she tried to “overcompensate” for her age and appearance by acting aggressive, cynical and “scowly” — earning herself the nickname “Pixie of the Apocalypse.” She shopped at stores like Talbots and JCPenney, and covered up her tattoos to “hide who I was and age myself about a decade older,” she told Moneyish. “I wanted them to look at me as a super-serious business lady.”
But around age 30, she realized the value of being honest and approachable. “I think the notion of ‘being taken seriously’ is … this ideal that doesn’t exist,” she said. “Most people do business with individuals that they like and trust. You want to be liked, you want to be trusted, and if you can do that, there’s an automatic default where they do take it seriously.”
Don’t stress over someone who has no bearing on your career. “That is mental time and energy that can be focused elsewhere,” “Adulting” author Kelly Williams Brown, 33, told Moneyish. “Is that man one of (Ocasio-Cortez’s) constituents? Is that man one of her opponents? Or is that some guy who had a dumb thought and found a place to say it? I think people who are successful are able to contextualize that; are able to realize there’s no such thing as a universally liked person — except Mr. Rogers.”
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