To command respect and achieve your career goals, how firm should we be as women? At the same time, as a woman, have you ever asked yourself, did I not smile enough?
First of all, let me be clear. This is not a “men against women” post. It’s about maximizing your potential, embracing yourself and surrounding yourself with people who will lift you up in your career and leaving the rest behind.
However, we can’t deny that there are some differences between how people treat a man and treat a woman in business. I can’t speak for everyone, but based on my experience, women are expected to be more pleasant. We are always expected to smile.
So let’s start there.
A Smile is the prettiest thing a girl can wear
I can’t count the number of times I have been criticized for not smiling. The funny thing is, it usually comes from women.
This is probably a cultural thing. Society expects women to be nurturing, approachable, patient, and pleasant. It’s the norm. Women are so used to playing the role, they think going against it automatically labels you as intimidating… a scary mean old witch.
And I used to think, do you have any idea how difficult it is to display male-like confidence, to keep order and control, to maintain peace in the client-work pool chaos, to encourage thought and solution-finding during crisis, and then need to smile just to avoid being called a bitch? (And to do all that while looking pretty in heels?)
Does it piss me off? It used to.
But then I realized that like all cultural problems, you can’t expect change to happen over night. And some of these messages come from a place of care. They just wanted to see me happy.
The problem is, THIS IS MY FACE. This was taken when I was a speaker at an environmental convention. It’s my thinking face. It’s my work face. It’s my talk face. It’s my listen face. IT’S MY FACE. Yes, even when I’m happy. And yes, I Do Smile. I smile when I see my friends. I smile for photos. I laugh at stuff. I just go back to my normal face right after.
So if we’re expected to follow the norm of smiling like a girl, why does being girly come off as less professional?
Be A Little Less Girly
Watch this video about Amy Golding, 31 years old and CEO of Opus Talent Solutions. In this video, she shares, “Very early on in my career, I got my first feedback. It was that I was doing a very good job, but if I wanted to progress, then I’d have to act less young and less girly.“
I felt her pain...
While Amy was a bit different from me in the sense that she has a gorgeous smile, and smiles a lot, we were both imposed by norms to do something which was totally unrelated to our work and how we function in our roles.
When I first worked on the online persona of Digital Davaoeña, something a friend came up for me, I thought it was perfect. It embodied what I did, and what I represented. But I was asked by several of my friends if I wanted to work with something that’s less… girly.
Davaoeña is a female from Davao. And they thought maybe I wanted an online persona that was more genderless.
After all, I wasn’t just a lifestyle blogger. I was going to post about tech, digital marketing and work too. And they thought people might not take me as seriously if the fact that I was a woman was so in their face.
That’s when I decided… to keep it anyway. A girl can write a digital marketing strategy plan one minute, and a make-up blog the next. So what?
Why did I needed to be confined to labels?
Read the Labels
Yes, I have used the hashtags on instagram for testing and visibility reasons, but I don’t preach it.
(I tricked you on the title, I know. But you clicked, didn’t you?)
I was never comfortable with those labels. The first reason is because we don’t hear the words…
… and then associate it with pride. We don’t even have those labels. A mom who works as an employee can have it as difficult as a mom who runs a business.
It can be inspiring for some women, but I detest it when people use the labels as an excuse for dealing with the hard stuff. Because you know what, things are hard for everyone sometimes. That’s just life. And I won’t discard the fact that it’s also tough when you’re an employee, just because there’s no label for it.
The label single-mom doesn’t even enter my head as frequently as society expects it to be. I’m just a mom, who isn’t married, and owns a business. That’s what I am, depending on where I am, but that’s not ALL that I am.
I don’t drown in the difficulties and complications of those labels because I don’t let myself. Yes it’s tough but I’m still capable of doing everything that needs to be done, and ask for help when I need it. It’s the same for raising a son, and it’s the same for running operations in the company.
Be Graceful and Elegant, Yet Wild and Willful
The second reason is because whether intentional or not, these labels become passively sexist. My friend Samantha, sums it all up on her Facebook post:
Because there is no speech delivery style that’s designed for women. There are no management strategies that’s designed for women. Business is business. Speech is speech. Work is work.
Can’t you see? It’s just a marketing ploy. Copywriting we fall for.
Let’s Stop Trying to Be a Girl Boss and Just Be Successful
Before you start with the backlash, I know. I know it’s tough to be a woman at work, in business and even just in life. But unless we stop focusing our attention on the struggles, and more on the goals, we’ll never get there.
And I appreciate women who try to help each other, in whatever aspect in life. But I also want women to start realizing that gender does not define your ability to succeed. So we should also stop using it to expect special treatments.
Maybe we have to work twice as hard. Maybe we need to make certain sacrifices today. But remember, our success will define the success of future generations, men and women.