Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why I Refuse to Grow A Penis at Work

Act #58:  Act like a girl.

This week, with the stroke of a pen, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer eliminated the option for her employees to work from home.  In March Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg plans to release her book titled,  "Lean In", which cites that women are their own worst enemy in the workplace, by holding themselves back by by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. According to Sandberg, this is why men still run the show.

Both Mayer and Sandberg subscribe to the philosophy that the success of women in the workplace lies in our capacity as a society to be gender-blind.  That women can and should have it all.  As long as they act like men.  Just had a baby?  Get your swollen, lactating self back to work ASAP so that your male colleagues don't view you as weak and not committed to your future.  Faced with an employee who is not performing?  Be assertive and cut the touchy-feely crap, discipline them.  Harshly.  There are all kinds of articles offering tips on how women can rule the world, that range from choosing a prominent spot at the board table, squeezing the living dead out of someone when you shake their hand, not developing female friendships at work so you aren't viewed as gossipy, speaking to colleagues with authority, asking for more to do and - killing yourself in the process - just to prove that you are hard-working.

This is my tenth year that I've held a director's title.  In other words I've been someone's boss since I was 31 years old.  And you know my secret?  Ms. Mayer and Ms. Sandberg would die. 

I don't act like I have a penis. 

I try to remain authentic to my core by not playing the game, not strategizing on how I can personally move up the next rung of my career ladder.  Not carefully calculating every decision based on whether or not I will be perceived as the weaker sex.  And certainly not sabotaging relationships just to prove that I've got the balls to do so.  Here's a novel idea.  Value people.  Stick with the mission.  Sounds a little too simplistic?  Well let me tell you, it's not.  It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do and I'm by no means done figuring out how to do so effectively. It takes investing in human beings, caring about individual circumstances, giving people the right tools to do their jobs, allowing someone to be defined by more than their title, and yes, it also means valuing someone enough to hold them accountable when they are not contributing adequately.  Throw in that mission piece and you're juggling all kinds of ethical balls in the air, constantly weighing personal employee needs with needs of the organization.  

Last night I joined six other female colleagues and feasted on celebratory Chinese and bubble tea.  For the past 2 months, we have been working collaboratively (gasp!), in teams, to write a $115,000 grant proposal to expand our non-profit services in the region.  Five of us presented to a panel of community investors last night, but we were the ones who walked away feeling invested.  In the process.  In each other.  In the mission of our small little non-profit.  I didn't perfectly position myself at the head of the table.  I didn't firmly squeeze the hands of the review panel.  I didn't intentionally speak with authority.  In fact I spoke with humility, grateful for the opportunity to partner with others in my town, in my organization, to respond to our community needs. 

And at the end of the night, I hugged my colleagues and told them how grateful I was for them. If valuing people and caring deeply about a worthy mission prevents me from advancing any further in my professional journey, I guess I can always open a gourmet hot dog stand.


  1. Well-said! And what's unfortunate is that the "act like a man" philosophy is so limiting in its depiction of what a "man" would act like.

    I sometimes wonder if women don't use the "I'm acting like a man" excuse as a way to justify what they might know are less-than-appropriate less-than-authentic?) approaches.

    Thanks for the valuable reminder that each person brings a unique set of skills and gifts to a position - and that all of those sets have a valid place at the table!

    1. I love the "table" visual, I really do. What a beautiful image of abundance, fullness, and diversity in bounty. Hmm...I'm getting hungry :-)

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