Before I started working, I heard stereotypes about men and women in business. That men were decisive and strong, women emotional and weak. I wondered if I should believe the stereotypes when I began working, because I was shy and intimidated, and saw overwhelming confidence amongst the men around me. It looked like strength to an innocent young graduate.
When I found my stride, I realised that many of these men blustered, confusing volume and quantity with substance. But I saw them rewarded for it, the men who talked up a good storm to hide their incompetence, who sounded certain, who intimidated by language, by the raise of an eyebrow, or by simply ignoring other, talented people. Women who behaved confidently, who spoke up with substance, who debated ideas were side-lined, labelled as “too hard to work with.” Quieter men, decent men, less confident men, also fell by the wayside.
Where was the stereotypical fearless, rational, “strong” man? Hadn’t we been told that men debated issues, not people? Wasn’t it women who took arguments personally, emotionally? No. This was not my experience. As my own expertise grew, as I became confident of my ideas and approach, I lost my shyness, I spoke up for what I believed in, I put forward ideas and I debated issues. I began to stand up and as I did, many men took a step back, sheltering behind me. But not the bullies.
I realised that the corporate world – its hierarchy, competition, and processes – killed confidence in its workers, when the most profitable option would really be to nurture it, listen to it, grow as a result. I knew I needed to leave before my hard-won, newly-found confidence was also destroyed. Unfortunately, the blustering bullies followed me to the Board table.