I never advise women to lie. Women have lived their lives as lies for so many years. We lie about our capabilities, our true feelings; we pretend and manipulate in order to gain male favor or bolster men’s egos. I relished when I started really telling the truth about myself. I started realizing I could win that tennis game, ace that test, meet the top metric for that project, and show who I really was. I didn’t have to giggle when I wasn’t amused or smile when I was mad or meet gender expectations programmed into me. I advise telling the truth, but you don’t have to offer up everything in your heart and mind.
When we finished promotions for the year, I made sure we went back and looked at our diversity statistics. Had we promoted all white men? If so, why? Had we missed any women or minorities? Inevitably, gender or racial bias had crept in and needed to be adjusted. It’s called “unconscious bias,” but I still suspect a lot of it is conscious.
And when I left a job, I tried to ensure a “power transfer” [from] woman to woman. In all my positions in corporate America, I was the first woman ever to have the job I had; I always succeeded a man. Once I had shown that a woman could do the job, I had a chance to jump on it and be sure it didn’t revert to being a “man’s job.” That didn’t mean a man could never have the job again in the future, of course, but it was satisfying when my successor was a woman. Otherwise, it was easily seen as a fluke that one woman had made it. I worked hard at mentoring, planting the seeds, participating on the selection committees, and was successful many times in making sure qualified women came after me. There were always a number of female candidates, often those who had been overlooked but who had amazing credentials, when someone like me took the time to advocate for them.
Speaking out and questioning the status quo is a way for everyone to learn and agree on right and wrong behaviors. As women rise up the corporate ladder and gain more power, we can argue that employees who misbehave, such as by showing blatant sexism or prejudices, shouldn’t get that promotion or should even be fired. We can seek justice rather than revenge. We can push back as equals. And as we attain equality, we have an obligation as women to help other women and minorities. It doesn’t mean we have to advocate for everyone at all costs; it means we should open a door for those who deserve it.
Excerpted with permission from the author. Just A Girl: Growing Up Female and Ambitious by Lucinda Jackson (She Writes Press; Oct. 2019).