Are We Being Too Nice To Women At Work?
A lot of articles about sexism address many of the patronizing, sexually charged, or even borderline demonizing biases that many women feel in the workplace. Many times we’re talked down to, or having subjects explained to us that we may be experts in, or are forced to listen to a man dominate the room with his blind and ill-informed confidence. But that’s not what this post is about.
In this post I want to discuss something that can be sneakier, something that can be just as professionally damaging, and may even sound ridiculous. Are we being too nice to women at work?
And I’m curious to know if other women have experienced the following as well. I find that many people avoid the hard truths, the difficult conversations or the blunt feedback in any professional scenario, but that it’s especially tip-toed around when women are involved. The idea that women are too thin-skinned to be spoken to with the same directness that their male counterparts may get from superiors. I can hear you already, “oh my god is she really complaining about people being too nice?” But this scapegoating and avoidance can be incredibly damaging to a woman who wants to improve upon her skills, not just be blindly praised for the smallest task.
I’ve recently launched my company Wethos, and I was sensing that many of the investors or people I pitched to were being too nice to me. With the lack of feedback from people who I thought would be the harshest, I started to wonder if this was an internal bias because I am a woman? It could almost be considered a form of subconscious patronizing, as stated above, where someone implicitly may think you literally “can’t handle the truth”.
With frustration I continued to seek out someone who would give me real, actionable feedback on how to improve our pitch. I knew it was delusional to think that we had just put together an amazing deck the first time around, and that my team must just be stacked with amazing first-time entrepreneur natural genius. So I continued to wonder, “why aren’t I hearing the truth?”
Thankfully I finally found someone who was honest with me, and we were able to have a candid and productive conversation about how to push our presentation to the next level. The hard thing about internal bias is that it’s tough to prove, which is why I’ll probably continue to wonder why I’m getting the reaction I am from so many people. What I do know is, if a woman comes to you for honest feedback, and you feel that pit in your stomach like you’re about to scold an innocent little puppy, stop yourself, clear your head, and deliver a productive and direct point. She’s not going to cry, she’s not going to take it personally, and I guarantee you if she agrees with your feedback she’ll come back, guns blazing with improvements.
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