At the beginning of this year I was promoted to a management position at the Waterloo tech company where I work. I am one of just a few women in management positions and the only one in my department, meaning more often than not I am the only woman sitting around the boardroom table. I know I’m not the only woman in this situation, since women hold just under 35% of Canadian management positions.
I enjoy my job, and my fellow managers are talented, respectful people — so I’m doing better than many women in my position. But there are a few struggles I’ve been experiencing since stepping into this new role that are solely to do with my gender.
Being my department’s only female manager, I basically feel like I’m representing all of womankind. An exaggeration, yes — but I do feel like I need to do a practically perfect job, lest it reflect poorly on all women and impact the next woman’s chances of being promoted.
Logically, I know that in promoting me the company wasn’t gambling on a woman; they were putting the most qualified and experienced person they had into a role that needed filling. But knowing and feeling are very different things, and I nevertheless feel an incredible pressure to prove my ability and competence, a pressure my (white) male coworkers can’t possibly feel in the same way.
I value workplace friendships, and when the people I worked with most closely with were peers and predominantly women, they came fairly easily. Now, the people I work with most closely are my direct reports — who I’m told I shouldn’t be too chummy with — and my fellow, all male, managers.
Suddenly, it’s more difficult to make a connection. Whereas previously I bonded with coworkers over a glass of wine, it feels wrong to ask my married male colleagues out for a drink after work. I fear miscommunication, awkwardness, and being perceived as unprofessional.
At a meeting when an idea gets shot down, a suggestion is ignored, or I’m interrupted, I can’t help but wonder... Was my suggestion really not helpful? Or was it simply because I’m a woman and my colleagues’ unconscious bias tells them I don’t bring much value to the table? I try not to dwell on this thought but it’s always in the back of my mind, because how can I know for sure?
So what’s a #girlboss to do? Seriously — I would love some advice from those of you who’ve been where I am.
In the meantime I’m going to start attending my local Lean In events and continue with the management training my company has been sending me to. And perhaps most importantly, take a deep breath. I got this… right?