What I learned from being the only woman at a conference with 400 men
In my last corporate job before I started my own company, I worked in a male dominated industry and traveled the world. One day we had a big conference in Paris, where I found myself to be the only woman in the room surrounded by 400 men. For me is was a non-issue until one of the men handed me a pen and a piece of paper, told (not asked) me to take notes and to make sure these notes were written and disseminated to all the participants of the meeting by the next day. Slightly taken by surprise, I handed the man his paper and pen back and politely told him I was the keynote speaker that day and not the Personal Assistant. His reply was one I will never ever forget. “But that’s impossible! You’re a woman! I assumed only men were in this industry as it is too violent & hard for women!” I simply smiled at him, thanked him for his compliment and walked away.
What did I learn from my three days at that conference?
1) Paradigms are tough cookies
When I checked the word “paradigm” in the Oxford dictionaries it said: ”A typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model”[i] Which is exactly the definition I was looking for with regards to this article. But the next sentence made me laugh , as the first example they give is:” society’s paradigm of the ‘ideal woman’”...need I say more in line with the example I just described in the opening paragraph of this article?! Paradigm is the way a person looks at the world. The glasses they color their world with. The collection of beliefs and concepts what is known as a paradigm, which is a set of theories, assumptions, and ideas that contribute to your worldview or create the framework from which you operate every day. Thus Paradigms help us to organize information and understand our world, but they also affect the way we design, record, and interpret our observations. So to take off these ‘glasses’ is very difficult and a hard thing to do. So the paradigm with which the man that handed me the paper and pen could be: “My line of work is too dangerous for women” or “women cannot deal with violence and hard situations”.
2) Assumptions (subconscious bias) take over in situations where people feel insecure
Assumptions can be a vicious circle of non-productive, inaccurate emotional thinking. The consequences of assumptions can be harsh or even lead to incorrect judgments of others or of ourselves[ii]. As a result, relationships can be damaged or self-confidence can be lowered. I talked to the man that handed me the paper and pen on the last day of the conference and found out that this was his first time at The World Meeting and that he had felt overwhelmed by all the people and ‘knowledge’ in the room. What confirmed my knowledge & experience, after decades of working with my coach clients as a mindset expert, that most people have a tendency to rely on their paradigm and basic assumptions when dealing with uncertain or unfamiliar situation. It is actually a function of the brain, a way of helping you asses, organize and structure an unknown situation. So you can act swiftly and immediate in case of danger. You can however train your brain to view the world in a different perspective and different colors, but you must do this consciously and consistently.
3) Equality is a myth
The amount of knowledge and value I brought to the room was only picked up by a few and a lot of men did test me on my “real” knowledge and skills those days. But I did not care. It actually made me stronger. As their behavior said so much about them. And that is the main reason I write this article. I want to tell all men, but especially women, to put the bad remarks, behavior and insecurities back where they belong: with the one that sent them to you in the first place! I do not say that you have to accept violent, abusive or any other unacceptable behavior! That is absolutely off limits and should be stopped, banned and eliminated from the whole world as we speak! But what I do say, is that we can choose in which way we react to other forms of insulting behavior. Will you let them take you out or will you decide to let it make you stronger? The choice is yours! And let me be very honest with you all, this type of bullying of colleagues, unfortunately happens every day in a lot of offices around the globe. Not only between men & women, but also between women & women and men & men! Anxiety, jealousy and their own weak spots, often lead to this kind of misbehavior. What can you do about it, besides clearly setting your boundaries and marking your grounds? Going the extra mile to prove your worth.
Once again my experience in the corporate world was confirmed, equality in men and women is a complete myth. During the three days I was in that conference room surrounded by all these men, my #metoo-list-situations became longer than this article. The sexist remarks, “accidental” hands here and there on my body during diner, jokes, conversations or just when they passed me by in the crowded room, where off the chart. I even called by boss over it, as I really felt scared at one point being chased in the elevator and up to my room by a drunken participant. And my boss laughed though the phone and told me “To not make a fuss over it and to just lock my door.” End of conversation!
4) Go the extra mile to prove your worth
I know some people will disagree with this one, as they think one should never have to go the extra mile as a woman to show that she is as good as a man in the same position with the same knowledge experience or background. And I agree to a certain level. This whole article is only a reflection of the way I choose to look at the world and what I’ve learned from experiences like described above and from e.g. reading the Seven Habits of Stephen Covey[iii]. You should only put energy in the things you have influence on and never loose energy over fighting things you cannot change (like the rain). By going the extra mile to prove your worth, I mean, growing your own self-esteem and confidence as then you’ll know and you’ll be sure you’ve done all you can to do it right. Prepare yourself the best you can, know yourself, know your limitations, know your worth and practice it until you feel secure and confident about it. And to see each error, mistake, remark, flaw etc. you get presented back at you as an opportunity to grow! Never see it as something bad, but take it as fuel to improve yourself and to grow as a person! It’s not what people say to you or what happens to you that determines the outcome, it’s the way you choose to deal with it, respond to it, learn and grow from it. I believe you have to go the extra mile to prove your worth not for them, but for yourself!
5) It’s all in the mind
It’s all in the mind and a matter of mindset! Do you choose to be the weaker sex, the weaker link, the victim or do you choose to be the wiser, the power, the winner and the one that takes control over your own life? Mindset determines a great deal of your success! In fact it’s the greatest part (80-90%) of your success!! Change your mindset and you’ll change the outcome! My mindset keeps me going every single day. My mindset saved me the day I broke my neck. My mindset saved me every second I had to learn how to walk again. Every time adversity hit me. My mindset saved me that specific conference, because I did not back down, I proved my worth, I showed that I still stood tall after three days in that conference, but most of all, I showed me! I showed who I am, that I’m worthy in a strong, confident and proud way! This is who I am and this is what I stand for, what I represent and where my boundaries are in the case of acceptable/ not acceptable behavior. After being laughed at by my boss on the phone, I told myself that I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. And so I did, in a proud, strong, respectful, warm and kind way. I set my mind to in and I won. I won their trust, their respect and their friendship, just by sticking to my values, my worth, my beliefs, my strength and knowledge, by being my true self!
6) Enjoy what you do
The thing that gives me strength and stamina every day, is the fact that I enjoy every thing that I do. I enjoy my work, my life, my family and friends. Is every day the best day ever? No! But I make it the best I can. Simply by focusing on all the things that did go well that day. By looking for that one little miracle in the day and by being truly and utterly grateful for all things coming to me. Yes, even the bad things as they present me an opportunity to grow as a person.
7) Be proud of who you are and what you do
The last thing I learned was to be proud of who I am, like who I really, truly am! It earned me a lot of respect, network and business and on a personal (more important) level it gives brings me a loving relationships with my family and friends. They know what to expect. I am what I am. Noting more, nothing less. So my advice to you is: do not play a game, a role of put up a mask! Just be plain you! Have the audacity to follow your dream, your intuition and your passion. Stand for your own beliefs, values and opinion. Be open to learn and say sorry in case you were wrong. Life is not always easy, but to stop with the act, the role, the ‘what-I-think-others-expect-me-to-do’, worrying about expectations, paradigms, assumptions and or the things (limiting beliefs) we tell ourselves, will ease up your life! It will set you free and give you more energy to fulfill your dreams and mission in life.
Note: the sole intention of the article was to write my story and the things I learned from being the only woman in a conference room filled with 400 men. For years I have the feeling I have to address this topic in a, for both sides respectful way, as I know it’s an issue that a lot of companies, even governments and people struggle with. I hear about it on a daily basis, but a lot of people are afraid to address it, as they do not want to end up in a male versus female conversation. With my article I would love to open an honest, respectful and ownership based conversation, about how your own mindset and understanding of some psychological processes involved could help you when dealing with such a situation. How we can help each other to better understand it, improve it and how (in my biggest wish and dreams) we can all work towards an easier cooperation between men & women.
About Drs. Joyce Carols
Drs. Joyce Carols (www.JoyceCarols.com / www.Drive4Diversity.com) is the Founder of Enjoy EsC and a Mindset and Behavioral Expert with a strong Drive for Diversity. Her mission is to empower leaders to shatter their glass ceiling and make them aware that they can do, achieve or overcome anything as long as they set their mind to it and to enjoy every minute of their lives. In this way they are able to balance professional success with personal energy strength and Happiness. A Success Mindset and an ingrained Diversity based focus and strategy are must haves to increase the psychological, cultural and economical performance and well-being of yourself and your company.
She’s a proud foster mom of two beautiful girls, a former international in both Field Hockey and Acro-diving. She has worked for well-known Fortune 500 Companies and worked/lived all over the world.
With Drive4Diversity she supports global leaders in implementing a Diversity strategy and Mindset on a Personal and business developmental level. Her over two decades of experience, a hands-on mentality, enthusiasm, fun and a great amount of knowledge, makes her unique and the Executive Coach that motivates & helps you to achieve your goals. Drs. Joyce Carols is a sought after International Speaker and official TEDx Speaker. Her speaking engagements are graded most favorably by different audiences all over the globe. Engaging. Knowledgeable. Truly inspirational through her astonishing life story!