I was recently asked to take part in a panel discussion on Women in Consulting. This was new territory for me. The notable credentials of the other women made me feel a bit out-of-place. Naturally, I was a bit late and the last to take my seat in the front of the room. As I surveyed the room I noticed a slew of eyes nervously looking at me. Waiting. Waiting to hear our advice.
The format of the discussion was unscripted and seemed to be done so on purpose. The moderator presented each question on the projector requesting an answer on the spot. Catching us with difficult questions generally circumvented to give us no time to sugarcoat our responses. It seems they wanted the real…and that’s what they got. The questions ranged from the typical…”tell us about yourself” to…”do other women in your organization support you”. I was literally taken back by the honesty these women were seeking. It seemed as though they wanted to know their chance of survival in the world. I was a shimmer of hope. Hope that they were on the right track…a track that leads to something good.
A few of the questions that stuck in my mind after the session were:
Question: California recently enacted a new requirement for all corporate boards to have at least one woman. What are your thoughts?
Answer: This is a great opportunity for women to take a seat at the table. I do hope the women in these positions are not just placed there to fill a seat. We need women who will speak up and drive our perspective within these roles.
Question: Has being a woman ever been a disadvantage for you?
Answer: When interacting globally I have had instances where I was deemed as less than my male counterparts. Additionally, as I look ahead a disadvantage will come about when I need to make a choice between family and career. While no choice is wrong. One will require that I slow down and may even take me out the game for a few months. With that I find myself trying to get ahead quickly now so when I get there I won’t lose much ground.
Question: How do you respond to “mansplaining”?
Answer: Let me first explain what this is…it’s when a woman makes a statement which no one responds to. Then a male counterpart will make the same statement which everyone now seems to align with. Yes, this has happened to me. Generally when it does I’ll speak up and make my point again. If it’s a matter of being heard I’ll repeat the idea with an added…“his point is in alignment with what I stated earlier…”. It’s important to let people know you have an opinion and you’re not just a potentially competent bystander.
Additionally, I let them know about the female initiatives in my organization. The support available from other women at the top. That accentuating your achievements is not lying…it’s ok to shine and show off those key features. Identify what’s being sought and align your objectives to that need. Many women tend to have a hard time glorifying their success. I even do this…I think it’s showing off and may be seen as arrogant. I have a Doctorate in Cybersecurity and I get uncomfortable being called Doctor or an expert.
Interestingly there were a few men sprinkled in this crowd of about 20 women. They seemed to be intently focused on our responses. At the end of the panel, one came to me and said he was extremely impressed by my achievements. He asked a few questions on how to improve his résumé and how he could stay in touch. Though the panel discussion focused on the female perspective, these men grasped our insights and gained new perspective.
Without honestly sharing our experiences there’s no way for anyone to understand, gain insight and potentially align with our views. Man or woman, without visibility to your perspective there’s no room for change. This experience opened my eyes to the importance of sharing your thoughts. These experiences may either help others to build on top of your success or learn to avoid your failures.