Reputation: An Art More Than a Science

I get up, and nothing gets me down.

This post addresses my last blog, in which I talked about the struggle of being a woman CEO, and feeling selfish for enjoying my successes.

You got it tough. I’ve seen the toughest all around.

I didn’t receive very much feedback, even from my own community. One of my team members was actually hesitant to put in their comment, even though it was unrelated to the ‘gendered’ part of the article.

And then I had a close friend say that he would have related to the article more, but since I made it about gender, he felt like he couldn’t participate in the conversation — like I was discluding a large portion of the population. He feared saying a comment publicly would place his reputation on the line and potentially label him as a misogynist or sexist. This points to a larger problem: the fear of entering a conversation because of how you would be perceived by the other gender.

And I know, baby, just how you feel.

I tried to put myself in their shoes — but then I realized that I’m in their shoes every day as a female CEO in tech. At least daily, I’m in a conversation where the majority of the participants are men, and I am consciously assessing how much weight my opinion has. I am hyper-focused on everything I say and do and how it might affect my reputation.

This got me thinking: if men are uncomfortable with participating in conversations led by women, even over the internet, why do we expect that women be comfortable participating in conversations led by men?

Every time I walk into the room and it’s male-majority, I feel my reputation is on the line. I walk a tightrope of image. I have to make sure I come off intelligent, knowledgeable, with clearly-explained ideas, and to not be seen as too pushy, too emotional, or too bitchy.

You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real

But yet I still walk into that room. I choose to enter that conversation. I choose to participate with the other gender, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable.

Ok fellow ladies, If your gut is saying, c’mon Jackie, “just deal with it” or “It’s not a big deal, I do it all the time and I’m fine, I don’t think that every conversation.” GREAT! That’s because you’ve had practice doing this, so it’s not as hard as it was at first. You may in fact have gotten so good at dealing with that you don’t even notice a difference. But the question I throw back is, did you step up to the plate and participate in the first place? Yes. Yes you did.

Might as well jump. JUMP!

If men don’t feel comfortable joining a discussion by and about women because it may hurt their reputation, I have to wonder if they are aware that some women feel like that every day of their lives when trying to operate in male-majority situations. I consciously manage how I come across to men in business settings (and I don’t feel that same pressure when talking to other women). So when a man feels the same pressure to self-regulate and choose not to participate — like by choosing not to comment on a blog post, or only talking to people who they agree with about their opinions — it feels unequal.

You say you don’t know, you won’t know until you begin.

I’m not asking for any special concessions. And as someone who deals with these gender dynamics every single day, here’s some advice to women who find themselves in the same situation: practice being in the room. I have to practice every single day, and it does get easier. I’ve noticed that sometimes I come off in the way I intend, and sometimes I don’t. But I’m being bold enough to put myself out there in a very male-oriented space.

It’s not easy to put myself out there and place my own reputation on the line by speaking about these difficult, uncomfortable topics, but talking about the things I and other women face every day feels almost therapeutic. Like a weight is being lifted from my chest.

And my request to men reading this: practice participating. I promise, it gets easier. You can start with a comment!