Picture this: A boardroom full of your executive colleagues. Professional men and women in business suits line the edges of the large oval table.
Your supervisor has assembled the meeting regarding a recent policy change.
The air is tense.
One man stands up in outrage, demanding an explanation. Another man agrees just as forcefully. The tension rises to an uncomfortable level and when the supervisor diffuses the heat, you are left thinking how unprofessional they were and wondering if it had been two women to show that sort of display, the room would have attributed them as too emotional.
Women who raise their voices in passion are “not thinking straight”, while their male counterparts are admired for their will and way of holding the attention of the room.
Can you picture it? Have you lived workplace discrimination like this? Chances are, you have…
The double-standard is so apparent, it’s sickening.
LinkedIn has recently been airing a commercial advertisement recently that touches on this subject. The woman in the room is passed over for a promotion. It is unclear why she was overlooked in the 30 second snapshot of the situation but the underlying concern is apparent—men rule the workplace, no matter the credentials.
Workplace Discrimination | Classic Film Inspiration
Isn’t that infuriating? Why are women still perceived as the inferior sex? That is the question of the century!
Women are just as much natural born leaders as men are. Our listening skills are impeccable. We are empathetic. We have sound judgement. We have strong moral compasses. And we are able to delegate with our eyes closed!
Need we continue?
This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. It has been happening since the beginning of time. However, even with stigma, strong women have lived on.
Re-watch some old classic films and you will notice the characters like Vivien Leigh, who played Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. She is one of our favorites. Her determination is uplifting, not to mention her style! She has clothes made out of curtains, for heaven’s sake.
These films show us that strong women have always existed and that inspires us all here at Mercury!
Keen for more? Take a look at this article. They list a number of classic films with strong female roles.
Workplace Discrimination | Sharp Elbows
“Sharp elbows” — a term used to describe someone who is aggressive, overbearing and abrasive in the workplace.
Unfortunately, women are typically labeled as having “sharp elbows” and although it can be a badge of honor among fellow strong professionals, it can also be unfavorably used among other colleagues and supervisors.
As you know, when our CEO, Marisa, isn’t working on Mercury, she works as a professional in the corporate world. She has witnessed female colleagues being misunderstood and has first-hand experience in being told she has “sharp elbows” herself, after being reprimanded for it.
“I was told my tone was bossy; I was being abrasive and intimidating,” said Marisa, CEO of Mercury Clothiers.
Marisa was moved to a different project and assigned a different supervisor.
The silver lining: her new supervisor has also been defined as having “sharp elbows”.
Who’s laughing now, right?
“Needless to say we got along famously and had no issues,” said Marisa.
Workplace Discrimination | Women in Power
In fact, Marisa explained that most of her female friends and colleagues have at one time or another been told they had sharp elbows. Women that are strong, no nonsense, and career-focused professionals.
Nearly all of them had children as well as other family-care responsibilities so they were by no means slaves to their careers.
Which begs the questions— what makes a “sharp elbow”? And how does a woman in charge conduct herself to avoid the stigma?
We find that it is often not something that women early on in their professional lives experience. Perhaps they are not viewed as a threat yet. It is not until women are in a position of more authority does their authoritativeness become threatening.
Workplace Discrimination | Accept or Avoid the Label?
We have grasped who is targeted and why. The question now is: how do we handle it?
How do we continue to strive to be the best leader, without being punished for it?
We have some tips for you:
- Acknowledge the label. As hard as it may be. The thing is, if someone perceives you as being a certain way (i.e. bossy/aggressive), it is very difficult to prove them wrong. Their perception is their reality. Embrace the label and use it as leverage.
- Be self-aware. Your demeanor may be off-putting (to the insecure) so confront the possible label head-on in a conversation. For example, “I’m not trying to be bossy, but to me this makes the most sense…”
Forbes published an article with some great pointers on this subject as well. Read it here.
If you’ve found this post useful, check out some other Career Advice blog posts.
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