Through the Forest…In High Heels

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It’s hard enough as it is, right? Being a woman in what is yet a man’s world in the corporate arena. But my problem this week wasn’t about men, or the boys’ club, or the fact that we are still competing in a slightly disadvantaged space.

I’ve always been one who steers clear of any controversy. I believe in leading by example, and that means integrating, not alienating, uniting and not dividing. My posts, my opinions and even my presence on social media are sanguine, almost always benign. My job is to lift those who want to get away for a few hours, to write about humanity and hope and love. As women, we constantly champion individuality, strength, equality. And yet, at times, we act weak, petty and insecure. Men are so much simpler as human beings. They see you, they measure what you’ve done, they reward you, they move on. Women remain in their own vicious circle, angry at your success, angry at themselves, angry at everyone else.

Why is that? It truly baffles me. Shouldn’t we be sticking together, filled with so much pride that we are breaking barriers, reaching goals, running families and households, raising children, writing books? If not for anything, our ability to multi-task should be both a point of pride and commonality. We should bond over our struggles, and yet, we fight and compete not with each other, but against each other.

What gives?

On to the lesson of the week. The one that talks about being human despite the extreme pressure to stand up and take charge. This week, I learned the hard way that when a human is made to take charge of other humans, when a human is given the responsibility to carry forward tasks that involve other humans, no amount of superpowers can protect your heart from falling apart. This week, I broke down in tears in front of a new team. I can blame it on exhaustion, on the long hours that I’ve been putting in. I can blame it on the confrontation that one person in particular had hurled at me. I can blame it on the fact that no one is listening. I can blame it on weeks of trying to get through to this team with no success.

That day, I felt that I had failed as a leader. After all, isn’t leadership synonymous with strength?

But as time went by, I thought about what happened, analyzed what was wrong and resolved to address the issue. Leadership isn’t about power. To me, it’s about inspiring people to collaborate, to flourish and to grow.  I could have said so many things in rebuttal for their words, but instead I chose my words carefully. With a confident tone, I announced that this role was given to me for a reason. That it was not any of them, but I who was chosen to bring them together. I also made sure to let them know that the disrespect experienced earlier was no longer going to happen. And when they apologized, I told them that there was no need to do such a thing. That they didn’t know me, that they didn’t know who or what I was, as a person and as a senior member of the firm. I encouraged them to speak to many other people who did know me. I asked them to give this partnership a chance, told them that I needed them on the team as much as they needed me.

And then I walked away with my head held high (and my glasses to hide my red eyes).

It’s hard enough wading through this forest in high heels, trying to find our balance, our bearings in a world that hasn’t gotten used to us yet. We need to hold on to each other, support each other, keep each other safe. Until we give each other the space to succeed, no one will take us seriously. Unless we act human and humane towards each other, no success will ever be worthwhile.

Oh, and through all this, guess who stood by me, who encouraged me and who said, “They don’t know you, but we do.” The guys. It was the men who comforted me. The unassuming, no frills, no fuss men of the office. Hats off to them for making my life so drama free.