I love my business. I only just started, but I’m doing what I love and it’s going amazing. But something happened this week that made me question everything. If you are a man reading this, it may sound like a stupid or insignificant thing. If you are a woman, perhaps you will understand. That may sound sexist, but it’s not.
The truth is, there are differences between men and women and the challenges we face in life and business. Men who are accepting of women and respectful of people may be blind to this. The tide is changing and there are more women in business. That fact is accepted. But the reality is quite different.
I went to Dublin earlier this week to cover a conference. While there, I lumped together as many meetings as possible. One of my meetings was with a man I had previously met with twice. I had submitted a strategy and proposal, so since he wanted to meet, I naturally assumed it was to close the deal – or perhaps discuss some tweaks before closing.
In reality, he had entirely different intentions. He started off praising my work. We met over dinner, and as the meal continued he alternated between far too forward adoring comments to completely condescending and degrading ones. Often in the same sentence – “When I first met you I thought you were far too hot to work with… but you’ve gained weight”, “I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it, most girls haven’t”. He actually had the audacity to ask me outright if he could come back to where I was staying. I told him emphatically no. I’m intentionally toning down his comments as to write them would be inappropriate. Despite his horrendous behaviour, he is married. I left and he said he would help me find a cab, I thanked him and got in… to my horror, he got in the back. He and the cab driver started engaging in conversation which is terribly degrading to women. When the cab arrived to where I was staying, I got out and was horrified when a few minutes later he comes running up behind me. I asked him what he was doing and called him another cab using Hailo, which is thankfully very timely. He turned to get in the cab and I went inside and closed the door. Minutes later he starts banging on my door, calling and texting. I ignored him, but was quite shaken.
As ill fate would have it, he was an attendee at the conference I covered. I was speaking with a gentleman, and he brought coffee for me, which I refused, and then in front of the other gentleman made some comment about us being together the night before, giving a completely wrong impression. As slapping such people only works in movies, I abruptly excused myself and went as far away as possible.
I can’t describe how this all affected me, but I felt horrible. Violated. I started questioning everything – questioning if I could actually handle this, running a business as a woman. I certainly didn’t want to be treated like that again. I questioned my personality – I know I am friendly, I laugh a lot and am outgoing, perhaps I shouldn’t be so friendly? I questioned my appearance – perhaps I shouldn’t dress in clothes I find cute or keep myself the way I do. And I questioned quitting. I looked at job openings. I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this.
It’s a bit ironic, as I had gotten into a couple of conversations recently where men (whom I love and respect) were saying that they didn’t see a difference to the challenges that men and women face, they didn’t think women should receive special support in business and felt the journey and challenges of business are essentially the same, regardless of gender.
The thing is, I understand where they are coming from. The men I spoke with are incredibly accepting, friendly and respectful people. They treat women the same as they treat men, in the sense that we are equals.
It reminds me of a time when I lived in Pennsylvania. I was at the shop with one of my friends who happened to be black. That fact is completely irrelevant to anything except the point of this story, as diversity is the spice of life, be it skin colour, personality, background or personal interests. She was a really fun and engaging person who had that unique gift of making people laugh. One day, we were at a shop and the cashier was very warm and friendly with me, but treated my friend horribly. She was icy and rude and condescending and made completely inappropriate racist remarks. I turned to my friend in complete horror – I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears! My friend just shrugged “It happens all the time”
I had been friends with this girl for years and yet I was completely oblivious to the fact that racism was still a thing! Of course, you read horrible stories in history or expect it in the deep south, but never in my life had I witnessed the reality that racism still exists! (Until I moved to the South, but that is an entirely different story!)
I think this is the same with the struggles we face as women. The people who are most supportive of women in business, are also the most unaware of the secret challenges.
Part of that is our fault. I can personalise this with what happened on Wednesday. I didn’t want to tell anybody what happened, as I felt completely ashamed. I felt somehow he treated me that way because of my personality or the way that I keep myself or what-have-you. As women, we can be hardest on ourselves. We internalise and take blame, where no blame is due. We question ourselves and our motives, wanting to do everything honorably. When we do, we question if we made the right decision.
At the conference, we created a video. We wanted soundbites from conference attendees. We interviewed the first two men we asked. I had to ask four women before I found one who agreed to be interviewed! And she was one of a group of four, and the only one in the group that said yes… if with hesitation! In other words 2 out of 2 men took an opportunity to increase their profile, and one out of 8 women took the same opportunity. Why is that?
The day after the conference, I met with a lady whom I respect and admire greatly. She is a successful businesswoman and she helped me with some practical solutions to challenges I was facing. She listened to me, brainstormed with me and gave me some new ideas. I felt restored and motivated. I’m sure a man could have given me the same advice, but in light of the previous days, I found strength in the fact that this woman is friendly, outgoing, beautiful, dresses nicely, and is intelligent and successful. She’s faced incredible challenges and fought battles to get where she is today.
As people on a quest to live our best lives and reach our dreams, we will all face challenges and setbacks. As women, we face unique challenges. I find huge strength in the support of other women on similar journeys.
So, if you are a woman on a quest to live your best life, don’t let anybody steal your sparkle! And if they try, it’s a reflection on them, not you. Much of our success is in our own confidence – it starts in our own minds. Women are notorious for putting themselves down… stop! Own the person you want to be and keep going in the direction of your dreams!