How learning to ride a motorcycle is a good metaphor for being a women in the workplace.
When you learn how to ride a motorcycle during the Motorcycle Safety Course, the first and last thing that gets drilled into your head, is that you, dear new motorcyclist, are invisible. Invisible to cars, to truckers and even to pedestrians.
Everyone has been drilled to see and react to cars and other big objects barreling towards us at high enough speeds to hurt if we make contact. Bizarrely, motorcycles fall into a sort of permanent blindspot for everyone. We all know they have the potential to be there, but we basically assume they aren’t so lets just not worry about them, k?
I got my license after taking that course and last weekend I took my bike upstate — I live in New York city and few things are as lovely as a drive on crisp sunny day during leaf-peeping season. On the road that day, I had my usual monologue of “remember they can’t see you, remember you are invisible” running through my head and it dawned on me that this is basically the same tune that I tell myself as a women in the workplace.
Just as when I’m on my bike, doing everything I can to make sure the cars around me know that I’m there, I do something similar to make sure I’m heard during meetings. I work with the assumption that what I’ll have to say won’t be heard or will be discounted as not something to notice.
So how is riding a bike the same as working as a woman?
You ride knowing you won’t be seen, so you have to obnoxiously make sure you’re heard. I prep (thats the helmet, gloves, gear of riding), I monologue to myself (remember you wont be seen even if you think they see you), and then I claim (rev my engine, flash my lights, be prepared to swerve out of the way). Its obnoxious to rev and honk and flash my lights. I don’t do it for fun (okay, I admit revving your engine is kind of fun), I do it to increase my chances of staying alive.
Its the same at work. Its obnoxious to have to repeat myself, to defend my territory, to claim the front seat, to interrupt my colleagues and remind them that they are claiming my idea, or my fellow female colleague’s idea. I do this so they see me and so I can increase my chances of succeeding (a.k.a. staying alive in the workplace).
The real downside to all of this — when riding or at work — is that its exhausting. Apart from enjoying the revving (okay, yes, its fun. I admit) I wish we had better driver safety courses and public awareness about motorcycles so that riders aren’t forever in the permanent proverbial blindspot. At work, I wish we had better training and culture around sexism so that women aren’t forever stuck in a permanent professional blindspot.
A lot of this isn’t likely to happen soon, so in the meantime I’m just going to keep practicing being a baller by revving my bike’s engine and making sure I’m heard at work.