From Our Readers

There’s No Crying…In The Boardroom

Hey women – is self-doubt still a thing? I read this INC article about crying at work and it got me thinking.

As a newly-minted working woman, it is for me. (Warning: prepare for biased generalizations based on my own experiences!) Having been called everything from “little girl” to “expert” to “arrogant” in the workplace, I find myself often battling an exhausting combination of ambition and self-doubt. And yes, sometimes it leads to crying…in the workplace, in the car, in the grocery store (okay, we’re getting a little distracted with my crying issues. Moving on).

I hope you’re not expecting to learn ways to battle the urge to cry or to be more confident at work from this article (but if you have them, leave them in the comments so I can learn something!); this is more of a whiny, question-asking situation here, folks.

Does anyone else constantly battle with themselves? Sometimes I think maybe I’m not alone in this and other times I think I’m the craziest person in the world.

I grew up wanting to be a writer, always stuck somewhere in between a teacher’s encouragement and a family member’s vociferous opinion of my “reality” – that it would never happen. I think that’s where self-doubt begins – ironically, on the outside. There will always be people who don’t agree, who don’t believe and that’s okay. It’s even a little motivating. But suddenly you grow up and there is this collective conscience reinforcing that kind of doubt because of your gender – or your sexual orientation – or some other trait people can use to single you out. I recently had a job interview where the man felt the need to warn me that if I’m sensitive, it won’t work, because he can be mean and tough on people. I appreciate the warning, but just because you’re tough on me, does that mean it’s an end all be all because I’ll take it personally sometimes? Isn’t that how we learn and grow? Does he warn men he speaks with about this? If he knows he’s difficult, shouldn’t he hire someone sensitive to teach him a new way to handle things? So many questions!

Let’s talk gender for a second. I’m pointing this out because this sensitive/crying thing has become a stigma mostly associated with women – we cry in the workplace (note: see the Hillary Clinton reference in the INC article).

In a society where, despite consistent strides forward, women still have to fight their ways to the top, I guess it’s natural to navigate feelings of inadequacy both within yourself and without, where the prejudices of others tend to keep us down more times than not. If we’re to “make it” we are expected to buck up (again, biased personal experience). Be that strong woman in the workplace  – the woman whose heart is seemingly ice and who can withstand most everything and not be bothered by condescension or collective disapprobation (or maybe that’s just the movies talking – hello, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal and Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). Maybe we do cry more. Maybe it’s because we’re fighting our own lack of confidence on top of the stigma surrounding us, and it’s exhausting. Or maybe we have our period, right? Clearly that gets in the way of rational thinking, or whatever.

The point is, I get worried when I watch that kind of strong, important woman on TV or in the movies. The woman my mom consciously raised me to be (or tried to). When I see that, I feel like I should confess.

I’ll never be her.

I’m sensitive. I doubt myself everyday, I underestimate myself, I know I’ll go places in life, I often feel like I’m drowning in self-doubt, I love myself. You think that’s confusing? Try being in my head for a day. I’ll have you crying in no time!!How can caring what other people think and always striving to learn and be better truly be considered a bad thing?

What’s more, why is that viewed as a negative female trait? Most of the time I know that caring doesn’t make me weak. I have bounced back a million and two times from setbacks without cowering in a corner and hiding from the world. It didn’t make me any less sensitive, but didn’t make me any less strong, either. It made me work better, strive more, and reach my goals more effectively. Other times, I’m told that taking things personally is negative – something to be grown out of and overcome – something that is so utterly female. Excuse me, but why do I need to grow out of my gender?

I’m not saying all women should be able to cry all day at work when things get hard, just like men can’t pound their chests and smash things to prove their manliness all day either (really working the stereotypes here).  I’m just wondering why we have to pretend like we’re not human in the workplace. I’m wondering why we have to change. Work is the place we spend the most time, where we’re surrounded by an almost “second family” of co-workers 40-60 hours per week. Why should I pretend like I have no emotions? Why can’t I be ambitious and sensitive? More urgently, what does my personality have anything to do with my gender? Have you never seen a sensitive guy? Because I sure have and I’m sure he has a job somewhere. How do people respond to him?

It’s not even overall sexism at work that I’m concerned about – even though it may sound that way. I think sexism has a lot to do with it, but I also know that’s a much larger issue that will take plenty of more years and work to tackle. I’m concerned about why it is, that sensitive members of the female sex are viewed as setting the collective “us” back?

What I’m really truly wondering about, though, is self-doubt. It’s self-imposed a lot of the time, yes, but other times, ingrained by observations and interactions around and involving us. Second guessing yourself is, of course, a natural and oftentimes productive part of life, but sometimes it feels as if women carry just a little bit more of that burden. And if we don’t, if we project a sense of calm in knowing exactly what we’re doing, we’re considered “cocky”, “arrogant”, or worse – gasp! – “a feminist”. That strong woman in the workplace – she’s revered, feared, maybe even disliked because she’s good at what she does and doesn’t get emotional Like Madonna said, “I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.”

The sensitive woman? She’s weak, maybe even a little less effective at work in the eyes of others. But really she’s no different from others – maybe just not as good at hiding her emotions. Maybe she throws her heart and soul into work and is affected by the results. Why is that a bad thing? When do we get to be liked and respected for who we are, at work and in society?

Any ideas?

You can read more from Amie Baumwell on her blog.

Featured image via.