Mar 28, 2016 - Things to Do

4 things I’ve learned being a young woman in business

girl-at-desk

Mary Gross girl-at-desk cover

It’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re a young person just starting your career. But in my experience, it’s even harder to be taken seriously when you’re a young female just starting your career.

I’ve been told, “You should wear your hair down when you present, it looks better.” I’ve had my supervisor come up behind me and twirl my ponytail while giving me an assignment. And, my personal favorite, I’ve been told by a professor that “it must be hard to concentrate on advertising when you have the miracle of birth inside of you.”

The saddest part? Not all of these comments and actions came from men.

Clearly I’ve experienced some sexist work behavior in Charlotte. But maybe I’m being over-sensitive. Just because it happened to me doesn’t mean that it’s a thing. So I hit the streets (aka texted my friends while lying in bed) to find out if other young women in Charlotte have encountered degrading comments and behavior:

most-sexist-work-comment

OK, yeah, so sexism in Charlotte is a thing. But does that mean that young women (or women of any age for that matter) have to put down their heads at work and pray that no one notices that they (gasp!) have a vagina?

No. In fact, I think young women should be better prepared to deal with sexist behavior before they even enter the workplace. And that’s why I’ve compiled a few of the lessons I’ve learned while navigating my way through business in Charlotte:

Lesson 1: Don’t mistake flattery for respect.

In my very first job I had an older senior exec who wouldn’t call me by my name. To him I was “Little Lady.” At the time I was 22 years old and absolutely thrilled. This very powerful senior exec liked me more than all my other co-workers because he called me “Little Lady” and called everyone else by their boring names. (Also, I was super pumped that anyone would refer to me as “little.”)

Sigh, young Mary was so naive. I now know that this senior exec was showing respect by calling my co-workers their boring old names. Me? He was treating me like a child.

Our whole lives we are taught to respect people who are older than we are, but in a work setting, age shouldn’t determine your worth. You are an employee and you deserve the same respect as everyone else. It would have been inappropriate to walk up to the senior exec and say, “Hey Old Man!” just like it was inappropriate for him to call me “Little Lady.”

Lesson 2: Do everything humanly possible not to cry in front of your boss.

I know you’ve heard this one before and even Sheryl Sandberg says it’s okay to do. But in my few years of experience, I’ve found that it’s just better to leave the tears at home.

Have I cried in front of bosses? Yes. Many times. But I’m also one of those unlucky people who cry when I’m angry and then if someone tries to console me it will intensify my cry-anger and then I start doing that weird hiccup-y thing and then it’s like a two-hour ordeal and a total mess.

But what I’ve learned from crying at the office is that it has no purpose. Whatever the issue is that you’re crying over will not be solved with tears. This isn’t a speeding ticket; this is your career. Instead, stay calm, bite your lip and speak to the issue in a mature, thought out way. Then, obviously, when you get into your car you can blast Adele and cry your damn eyes out.

Lesson 3: Cover up your boobs.

Some women may disagree with me on this one. “Why should we have to cover up?” they ask.

I’ll tell you why. Because boobs are distracting. I’m a straight female and have been completely mesmerized by a co-worker’s low-cut shirt in a meeting. It’s human nature to look at flesh, especially when it’s standing in front of you talking about annual revenue.

I’m not saying that you need to tape those bad boys down for meetings. I’m just saying that the less chest skin you show, the less distracting you’ll be and the more people will listen to your words.

I know what you’re thinking — “That’s easy for you to say, Mary! You don’t even have any boobs!”

True. But I know many big chested women who keep things covered at the office. It can, and should be done.

Lesson 4: Finally, stop undermining yourself.

Sure, there will be people in the office that don’t treat us the way we want to be treated. But those people will always be there and that’s something we can’t change. What we can change is how we present ourselves.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever said the following statement in the workplace:

“This is probably a stupid idea, but…”

You can put your hand down because, yes, I know all of you are guilty of saying this. Think about it, why would anyone listen to you if you start off your sentence with “What I’m about to say is going to be unintelligent”?

You would never say “This is probably brilliant, but…” so why do we need to bring ourselves down before we even voice our idea?

What you think sounds “humble” really just makes you sound like you lack confidence. You’re confident enough to share your idea, now be confident enough to give that idea a fighting chance.

Scent Air

So, young women of Charlotte, keep working hard, demanding respect and kicking butt. (And yes, you can do this while having the miracle of birth inside of you!)

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