As women continue to expand their roles and responsibilities in the workplace, they regularly confront biases, stereotypes or assumptions, and develop strategies to build resilience over time. This became clear throughout two panels hosted by Taylor, on March 20 and 29, 2019, during Women’s History Month.
Casting the spotlight on female executives, we discussed “Disrupting the Norm and How to Find Your Voice” and “How to Break Down Stereotypes for Women in Business,” respectively. At the first panel, executives across departments at Taylor participated, including Brianna Bishop, Creative Director; Carla Wilke, Chief Strategy and Integration Officer; Sade Ayodele, Director, Digital Sports; Melissa Taylor, Senior Digital Director; and Maeve Hagen, President, Taylor Charlotte.
For our second panel, we invited client partners as well as other guests from a wide range of disciplines and industries. Panel members were Katrina Adams, USTA Past Chairman President and Executive Director, Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program; Cali Green, Executive Producer, Entrepreneur; Maya Alena Allen, Digital Beauty Editor, Marie Claire; Sabrina Macias, Senior Director, Global Communications, DraftKings; and Emma Giles, Brand Director, Guinness. We gained key insights from our colleagues here at Taylor and furthered our understanding of female executives’ experiences across business sectors.
Our panelists were asked to state the most common stereotype they’ve encountered in their day-to-day lives. Overwhelmingly, these strong, successful women said that they regularly confront the assumption that they are not the leaders in the room, and their competence is questioned until proven otherwise.
“People want to know who I’m there with,” said Green, who runs her own production company and is described by clients as “instantly indispensable.” Often, a client will not directly address female business leads, or assume that they are someone’s assistant. Allen added that “you’re taught to keep your head down and do the work and speak when spoken to in these meetings.” This kind of communication model hinders creativity and innovation, a topic explored by neuroscientist and Harvard Business School professor, Francesca Gino. All of this beckons the question: What can women do in these circumstances to claim their space and “own the room?” (Own the Room is the title of Katrina Adams’ upcoming book.)
Advice to Individuals
To help the current and next generation navigate a gendered workplace, our panelists gave recommendations and tips on how to confront these stereotypes. Giles, our longtime client partner at Guinness, encouraged listeners to “say more, question more… push back more.” Adams said that “in order for us to be heard in a room, we may have to elevate our voice… and become more assertive.” Women should confront their colleagues, even if their actions might be classified as “pushy.”
Allen emphasized these points, stating her feeling of responsibility to always speak up and represent women who have often been voiceless. Allen noted that she is frequently the only woman of color and is “always focused on bringing more people into the room,” both physically and virtually through her online publications. Recognizing that she “can’t always be the voice of reason for every woman of color,” Allen has conducted a number of one-on-one interviews regarding their corporate office experiences, which have been revelatory. All the advice that panelists gave pointed back to the importance of workplace diversity – at internal and external meetings, conferences, in online publications and throughout hiring practices.
What can everyone do?
There are ways that everyone of all gender identities can play a part in breaking down the workplace stereotypes that women face. Across both of our panels, the importance of advocacy – self-advocacy, as well as having advocates speak on one’s behalf – was emphasized. The importance of men speaking up in support of women, as well as the need for women who have risen to positions of power in their workplaces to continue to support and mentor other women, were pervasive threads throughout the panel discussion. As many panel members spoke to the challenges that they faced “moving up the ladder,” they emphasized the importance of giving back by elevating other women in the workplace. Representation at the top can inspire younger women to achieve, following examples set by their female role models.
Giles said that the “support of both male and female colleagues” was essential to building trust and comfort. Additionally, Macias, of Taylor client partner DraftKings, suggested that “businesses take a more proactive role in developing… the relationship between senior leadership and anybody that’s coming in,” to build greater diversity and mentorship. Finally, Adams pressed us to “make sure that it’s about empowering each other and supporting one another to be the best that we can be… We don’t always know where the path will lead us… and it’s not going to be easy.”
Gender equity in the workplace is an ongoing issue that requires active involvement from every staff member every day. Keep your eyes and ears open, maintain an honest dialogue with your colleagues and take a critical and informed stance on gender equity. Taylor looks forward to continuing its yearlong panel series and welcomes questions or comments from our readers.
This article was developed in collaboration with Anna Dutkowsky, Senior Account Executive, Taylor.