Career Advice

Men to avoid: the ones who tell you to slow down

There is nothing more demotivating than someone above you in your chain of command telling you to slow down, to be less ambitious. Especially if you are a woman and the teller is a man.

This behavior is, of course, not new. So many of our mansplaining experiences are captured in the new book Men to Avoid in Art and Life by Nicole Tersigni – I’m using one of her captioned paintings here to illustrate my message. A laugh-out-loud joy of a book and Twitter meme.

I was coaching a young woman recently and she was extremely frustrated that her boss has told her to “slow down” and be “less ambitious”, in a way she knew was coming from her age and gender. This young woman is mid twenties, smart, high energy, driven and very ambitious. She is an immigrant and has worked hard to get a college degree and now her US citizenship. She has big plans for herself and her career and having spent several sessions with her now I can see she is an employee you would want in your company. I’d want to tap into the precocious, precious combination of intellect and willingness to work really hard.

But that was not the case this time.

I can relate because the same happened to me early on in my career. If you are a young female in tech, more driven than the men around and above you then you are threatening to them. It is easier to put you down, tell you to “be patient” than it is to tap into your energy and drive because you just might overtake them as a result!

Good managers understand this. They see the potential and feed it. Stretch you, give you tough projects that challenge you. I was happy to work really hard and lose sleep if it meant I got a bigger opportunity both to win for the company and grow my skills. It’s your right as a talented employee to be stretched if you want to be stretched.

So if you find yourself being held back, being told to slow down, to be a little more humble, it is time for you to move on. Find yourself a new manager within your company if the problem is a local one with your manager, or if it is a result of the company culture find a new company to work for. And don’t be afraid to be visible so your new manager, or a recruiter, can find you.

Photo © Chronicle Books


Stop talking over me – or Living in the world of Mansplaining

I am not a shrinking violet. I am confident and speak my mind. And yet there is a behavior that, unless I am really determined, makes me go quiet: men aggressively, deliberately talking over me.

I’m in a meeting making a point the prospect does not like. He raises his hand (shows me the palm) and starts to talk in a loud, dominant fashion. He mansplains to me. I listen for a while, then try to politely interrupt, but it’s useless. He’s aggressive, determined to dominate, and rude. The bully in the workplace.

I’m at dinner with a friend. He’s mad about something and is determined to speak over me to prevent me making my case. As I speak he puts his hand out onto my wrist, holds it down and as every time I try to speak he speaks over me. Again and again until I give up. I can’t think of a way to be heard without being downright rude. I get mad. I go quiet (for a moment).

I’m in a board meeting and we’re discussing the need for diversity. And one member insists on mansplaining to me that diversity is not an issue at the company. I’m the only woman in the room, meeting after meeting, but I get explained to me why we don’t need another diverse board member. And when I speak I’m not listened to because he assumes I have an agenda. I do, but it’s the agenda of good governance.

I’m fed up of it, but I know I am going to keep experiencing the behavior. (Some) men trying to dominate women by talking very aggressively isn’t going to stop in my lifetime. So I have to deal. I talk a tough game. 3 years ago I was so mad I wrote a short, cryptic post on a day when only I knew why I was so mad. Titled Enough. But it’s never over. So I just have to put my big boys pants on and stride back out to change the world a little bit every day.