So, I was watching the movie Hidden Figures, again. I love that film. It’s so, relevant. I even blogged about it.
It’s technically an homage to events that happened in the early 1960s. But its triumvirate of smart, embattled women struggling to get their due in the workplace could be any of us females doing the same dance for equality today.
Women are still being sidelined, their brilliance used if not appreciated or compensated. We’re still being demeaned, condescended to, or outright ignored. Women of color are still occasionally being stared at like zoo animals who’ve mistakenly wandered free from an open door cage. Watch the film. You’ll know what I’m referring to.
But like the heroines in the film, we can, with persistence, grit and hard work, still win at work and in life. Things are, in fact, better these days.
It may not seem like it when you think about how little progress has actually been made. And that progress may seem nonexistent when some man talks over you for the umpteenth time in a meeting, calls your idea cute, or waits five minutes then repeats it and is thumped enthusiastically on the back for his brilliance while you are dismissed out of hand.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s look at this glass half full. These days we have more tools at our disposal to circumvent passive aggressive or antiquated male-centric behavior in the workplace. There are laws and HR policies to help us get past roadblocks designed to keep us in the metaphoric typing pools and away from the more interesting, better paid, more powerful positions.
The gender positive components in the strategic diversity management conversation – as well as its biased saboteurs – are now backed by empirical data. And we have more champions. High powered advocates in leadership who see women as equally competent contributors, undeniable boons to business, not as decoration, menial labor horses or any other 1960-ish nonsense.
There’s also trickery.
This is perhaps one of the more entertaining – but no less effective – strategies women can use to get where they want to go at work. Not unlike its close cousin manipulation, trickery can take on many forms.
Now, I freely admit. Employing a trickster’s tactics is not always completely right. Some might say, “Right! It’s just bold-faced lying.”
Hmmm. I suppose, technically, one might say so. But in games of love and war – and any woman trying to make it in the workplace likely has the scars to prove which side of that equation she falls on – I’ll thank you to remember that all is fair.
For instance, I ran into a fabulous article from Fast Company this week. Two female tech entrepreneurs created a fake male co-founder to avoid sexism – and it worked.
To their credit, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, founders of e-commerce site Witchsy, tried to do things on the up and up. The LA-based artists worked their idea despite discouraging initial reactions – “What a cute hobby! Or “That’s a cute idea.” – and in spite of more treacherous gender bias.
According to the article, after Gazin said no to a date, a web developer they hired to build the site tried to delete its contents on the sly. Not very sporting, that. Why, I believe one might even call that trickery.
Then there were the male graphic designers and external developers they tried to work with who were rude and condescending, slow to respond to email – if they responded at all – or both. So, Gazin and Dwyer invented a third cofounder, Keith Mann, who took over email communications with outsiders. Mann, get it? I thought that was hilarious. Anyway…
“It was like night and day,” says Dwyer, in the article. “It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.”
And before you say, well, that was just one time, one person. No. It was not. The twosome used Keith often enough to determine there was a pattern of behavior.
With Keith at their back, they were able to get things done without unnecessary interference, without rudeness, in a professional, timely way. And, rather than being pissed off that their subterfuge was even necessary, our two heroines used this cleverly manufactured tool to get ahead. They also had “some fun at the expense of tech bro masculinity everywhere,” according to Fast Company writer John Paul Titlow.
So, ladies, I ask you. What trickery might you employ to get you want? Witchsy, “the alternative, curated marketplace for bizarre, culturally aware, and dark-humored art,” recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, and is turning a modest profit. Whether you wear folks down like Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson) and Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaugn) did in Hidden Figures, or beat the players at their own game like Gazin and Dwyer did, there’s always a way.
Fair warning, the solution may not be as uplifting as that film, nor as potentially funny as the Witchsy cofounders scenario. Some women have to build their own companies to get the creative and financial freedom, the positions of decision-making authority they deserve. Others have to hit the pavement, seek out new employers whose cultures and talent management practices are better suited to, and more appreciative of, their aspirations and skill levels.
But whatever you have do to get where you want to go in the work world, you do it. You don’t let a man, a woman, or a billy goat with a taste for the back of your trousers, stop you from working for what you want. As my daddy likes to say, “K, just be still and know, that you already have everything you need within you.”
Even if what you need is a fictitious email partner.
Photo credit: Vice – Kate Dwyer, left and Penelope Gazin, right, cofounders, Witchsy