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Women in the Workplace: When ‘Not Enough’ is Also ‘Too Much’

Image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-leaning-on-wall-1040527/

Once upon a time, I was an ambitious employee at a large business selling websites to small and medium-sized businesses.

As a web content writer, I was a top producer, and I was picked to help pilot a website specialist program because I enjoyed making live web copy changes for clients while they were on the phone.

But alas! There was villainy. It was still corporate culture, with a very rigid management structure. That happy start-up vibe at a large company meant one thing, in my experience: outsourcing was imminent. Everyone was scrambling to prove their value and get promoted as a stepping stone to their next position, or to hold on for dear life.

We saw it coming.

And all that internal competition started to shake things up.

I had the opportunity to lead a portion of a meeting, and I did my best to support management in the installment of new policies while engaging my coworkers in understanding of our shared concerns.

I received two points of feedback from that meeting.

One manager said I was not passionate enough about the subject matter.

The other said I was “too emotional” to succeed.

Aside from the usual corporate shenanagins, I had to wonder how that could possibly happen. Two people who saw me lead the same meeting expressed radically different opinions on my behavior. I’m an expressive, clear communicator and I’m fiery and enthusiastic about business copy. What did I miss here, and who was right? Did I fail to strike some sort of balance?

This feedback still haunts me; I consider it before public speaking, but I’ve also come to accept that it’s a general pattern women experience in the workplace on the regular:

You’re either not enough, or you’re just too much.

And then there are the times we tone it down. We make ourselves less so we appear more palatable to a wider audience. I saw this happen recently, and while I understand needing a wide appeal for branding purposes, it’s difficult to watch women dial back on empowerment because they’re concerned with alienating a male audience.

There’s really no reason to equalize this conversation. It’s okay to have a conversation and focus on women’s empowerment without constantly making concessions for a male audience. But — as professionals, of course — we have to balance the age of #MeToo with “grab them by the…” in an age where existence is unfortunately ‘too political’ for some of us.

If the world isn’t giving us a fair chance anyway, why are we conceding? From marketing initiatives to game development, I constantly watch women make themselves less because men feel threatened when women live up to our potential. I catch myself doing it, too.

And I am so. Totally. Over it.

I’d love to hear your stories.

Please share your tales about when you (or a woman you admire) refused to make herself less just because men wanted to feel more comfortable. I look forward to reading your comments and inspiration.