How to Show Genuine Praise for Women in the Workplace
I have never been one for conflict. I don’t like when people fight, argue, are passive-aggressive or rude. I don’t like to make waves - I am a go along to get along kind of girl.
I am also a feminist. It has been a slow realization - it was always there bubbling beneath the surface. In my thirties, it has been an active volcano. Celebrating women fighting against the wage gap, gender stereotypes, female objectification, latent and overt suppression of women (I could go on, but I don’t need to).
I see those bumper stickers “well behaved women seldom make history.” YEAH! I mentally cheer for fellow females. I see you all out there, raising a ruckus, working hard, doing great and wonderful things.
How can we make sure history doesn’t forget you or give the credit to someone else?
As the year closed, I reflected on my achievements. It has been a great year, and I’ve had some major career successes. n each instance, my contribution or work was minimized or ignored completely. I worked on a project with a male co-worker, and we were jointly recognized. Later, I took the project further on my own and when the work was recognized, it was still under the auspicious male co-worker. I received an appointment to a competitive national committee, and yet I received no congratulations from my office. My previous employer was delighted to have a previous employee receiving a prestigious appointment. I waited for my current employer to exhibit some pride. Small and large opportunities passed with no mention. I had to wonder what other contributions were being misattributed or minimized, and who else was being forgotten? Part of being recognized is wanting to feel genuinely appreciated. The act of asking for appreciation makes it feel disingenuous. Like the boyfriend who only buys you flowers because you pestered him into it- you want the flowers, but you don’t want to have to ask. For me, I decided it was more important to receive the recognition than to feel genuinely appreciated. So I asked for it and got it. No hoops, no weirdness from my supervisor. That is an article all on its own- how to ask for and get what you want.
How do we fix this in a more systematic fashion?
More female support, women helping women? I certainly believe in that, but it may not be the underlying cause of the forgotten, obscured female recognition.
My workplace has an equal opportunity program that pushes female advancement. The focus on hiring and promoting females has been very successful. Ten years ago my field was entirely male dominated. Now, over 50% of the management structure is female, including the two most authoritative figures, and my direct peer group is 80% female. But neither the males nor the females were willing to speak up to support and celebrate my successes. It is worth noting I don’t work in a cut-throat, competitive profession. In a highly competitive field, it might make sense that lighting another person's lamp might take the shine away from you- but this isn’t my kind of workplace.
What I stumbled upon was a connection to a female communication style. What I realized about my previous employer celebrating my accomplishments is that I had a dear friend still employed there who was advocating for me. She was doing for me the thing I had not been doing at my current employer: she was selling and celebrating me. She had no shame, hesitation, or humility about sharing my successes. Meanwhile, I shared a few pieces of good news with my group, and had to wait for the accolades to be heaped upon me. recognition should be organic, not hand crafted.
Modesty and demure communication is an expected, trained and ingrained female trait. It is not one that our male counterparts share. When this puzzle piece fell into place, I see it everywhere now.
Men regularly create and take openings to sell themselves. They talk about who they know, what they have done, what they plan to do ALL the time. Most women- even ones who knew they were competing for an employment position, don’t take opportunities to sell their skills.
So my best piece of advice is - Sell yourself!
Take every opportunity to tell others why you matter. Don’t be shy or humble. It is a skill that may take some time to develop but cultivating the external perception of your character and skills is important. I’m not suggesting you be a nuisance, annoying car salesman, or in-your-face overt. No one wants to have a conversation with a me, me, me person. Humility is a wonderful trait— when praise is offered. But if you aren’t being recognized for the hard work that you’ve done, make sure you are reminding others “how tremendous you are”, “how you have all the best things” (one thing we have learned from this election- words and image perception can be just as, if not more, important than actions).
My second piece of advice is about a culture of support. If any woman is selling herself, never tear her down. Even if it strikes you as uppity or narcissistic. Even if she can’t hear you. The message you would send to anyone within earshot is “women shouldn’t engage in that type of behavior”. The truth is we have value, skills, and ability- we should feel at ease talking about them.