I'll never be a lady
Updated: Nov 10
'That's not very lady-like!' That's what my mum used to say to me.
When I was loud. Or opinionated. (Which I was. Often). Or when I was laughing too loud. Or expressing anger.
That's not very lady-like.
I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately.
After I read the book Untamed by Glennon Doyle. In which she describes how everyone is born 'wild'. And then gets tamed, or caged. By society. By the culture.
Your surroundings have an enormous influence on how you grow up. On how the world perceives you. And how you start to perceive yourself.
From the very moment that people coo at you what a 'pretty little girl' you are (or, in my case, being told by a random delivery guy that I 'should start smiling' as - apparently - my totally passive face was 'looking miserable'. And you wonder why I was an angry little girl?)
The bottom line is that everyone has an opinion. Especially about women.
About what you should do. What you should wear. How you should look. And, most of all, how you should behave.
And it's collectively hurting us:
In our lives, where we continue to put other people's wants and needs before our own.
It affects our confidence (did you know that 70% of women are suffering from Imposter Syndrome, against 35% of men?)
In our careers (where women are losing their jobs quicker than men) and
In our wallets (I don't have to remind you about the gender pay gap, do I?).
So, what does that mean?
It means that a lot of change has to happen before women are treated as equal to men.
It means that, for now, we have to be aware that the (working) world is built for men, by men. (And if you want to know more about that then I'd recommend reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez and Why Men Win at Work by Gill Whitty-Collins. You can read my book reviews here.)
It means that women have to know how to play the game until such time that we can change the rules. From the inside out.
Turning a world not designed for women into a (working) world designed for all.
So, after that introduction I'd like to share with you tips that will help you not only to do the things you like best, but also what you can do to play the game.
Finding out what you love to do (and do best)
Chances are that - after decades of being 'caged' - you have lost your True North. You no longer know where you're supposed to be heading. Some of you tell me you don't even know what you like doing anymore!
Which means that you're at the beginning of an expedition. At the start of a journey to find out who you really are. And find your direction.
Because only when you use your strengths, do what you love doing, will you work at your best. And if you love what you do you will make the most impact, in places where you believe it matters most.
So, go on and (re)discover what you love! Get curious. Go back through the years. When did you enjoy yourself most? What brought you joy and contentment? Start there. Reconnect with what you love to do. And make sure that those strengths are a big part of your (working) life.
Taking up space
Ever sat on the Underground, next to a man who - with total lack of self-consciousness - sat wide-legged on the chair, whilst you clutch your bags on your lap trying to fit yourself on half a chair? Desperately trying to avoid touching?
Or tried to sit down at the meeting table only to find yourself displaced by the guy who crashes his laptop on the table and his coat on the chair you were just going to sit down on?
Yes. Rude. Agreed.
But chances are that the guy doesn't even know he's doing it. He's just doing his thing. Taking up space. With a total lack of self-consciousness. Never questioning his right to be there.
So, whilst we (obviously) don't want to adopt rude behaviour, there are things we can learn from this.
Because, WE have the right to be there too! We don't have to sit at the back of the room. We don't have to sit down with our pen in our hand, as if we're ready to take notes. We can ask for coats to be removed so as to make room for us.
We have as much right as anyone else to be there. We don't have to accept second best.
Experience versus potential
Yep, you knew this. Women are being assessed on their competence and experience, whilst men are more likely to be assessed on their potential. So, where women have to show that they've done this thing before, men are more likely to be picked because they are perceived to be able to do the job.
Which means that - in your interviews, in your CV, on your LinkedIn profile - the emphasis should be on your experience. On what you've done. How you can show that you've done this thing before. That you can do this job now.
And figures in this are important. The difference you made. How much you saved the business. How much business you brought in. How much more efficient the business is because of you. What budget you handled. How many people were involved. How what you do best has translated into results before. And will do so again for a next employer (or client).
If we know that's how the game is played, then that's how we should play it. At least until we found ourselves in the position we want to be in.
Confidence versus competence
At which point we are going to have to talk about confidence. Nine out of ten women who I talk to say that they 'of course' also lack confidence.
Which is no wonder. Because if you are working in an environment that's not built for you that's what will happen. You will start to see yourself as an interloper. Someone who is not supposed to be there. An impostor.
And that's a problem, especially in the workplace. Where confidence is often being mistaken for competence. And where talking about your strengths, your accomplishments, is your first step inside the door of what could turn out to be your best job!
So you're going to have to create total clarity around what your strengths are, how you've used them for the benefit of your employer and how you want to do this again for a new employer.
You're going to need to practice until you're at ease with saying that out loud to prospective employers (or clients).
The most helpful definition of confidence I've read is where it is described as your belief in What You Can Do and what you know Will Happen as a result*.
The more you are used to state your strengths and the results you've achieved as fact (which it is!) the better the result and the more you will believe that you Can Do it and that good things Will Happen as a result.
(*From How Confidence Works by Ian Richardson)
Oh, the books I can write about networking. The most feared word in the female vocabulary.
Where, of course, we all have visions of us standing at the back of the room next to the coffee table. Whilst simultaneously trying to get rid of our coat and wet umbrella, scan the room, trying to remember where the toilets are, all the while juggling a delicious-looking (but quite frankly disappointing) Danish on top of our cup of coffee.
And where we end up not daring to say anything to anyone.
Well, networking is not like that anymore. You may have noticed.
Networking is online. Networking is 1:1.
And networking is an ideal opportunity for people to talk to you about themselves. About what they do. How they're finding it.
Because, yes, that's what you're doing. You're asking people if you can come and listen to them for 20 minutes. Learn from their experience. Who can say no to that?
See what I'm trying to do here? I'm offering you a different perspective.
Because, really, networking is nothing more than meeting interesting people. And what's not to like about that!
Asking for feedback
Bad enough having to talk about your strengths. To people you don't really know. But then to hear what they actually have got to say about you? Frightening!
At the same time I also hear people saying that they never get any (useful) feedback. That they only get a sentence. Uttered by a recruiter. At best.
So, what if, instead, your last question is: Before I leave this call could you tell me what I could have explained better to you? How could I have done better?
First hand feedback. Before getting off the call.
Beats being ghosted after an interview any day. Beats being read a (very brief) paragraph by a recruiter, who doesn't know what it means. And it will give you valuable input for a next interview.
So what do I want to say with all this?
That sometimes you have to play the game. The game of competence, of confidence, a game that may not feel completely comfortable to you.
And then start changing the world. From the inside out. Until such time that the world starts to feel more like ours.
That's where I'd like to get to. In my own small way. By supporting you in getting to that position. One woman at a time.
Oh, and about being lady-like? I have yet to understand what a 'lady' looks like. Or acts like. I'll ask my mum one day. In the meantime I'll just be me. I quite like me. Just the way I am, thanks! Miserable face and all.
Tineke Tammes is an ICF credentialed Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful career transitions into work they love! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.