As a millennial raised in a feminist household, I’ve always fought the urges to fit into a traditional female role, but am now learning how to lead as a woman in what can still sometimes be a man’s world.
housewife /ˈhousˌwīf/ noun
A woman who stays home to take care of the house, the kids, the husband and the pets. She works up a sweat, has anxiety attacks and burst into tears when a 2 year old says “no!” for the 100th time that day after having to pick up dog poop from the living room floor, washing 3 loads of laundry, washed all the dishes, went grocery shopping with 2 screaming kids, who get sick and throw up in the middle of the store. Then she comes home, cleans up the kids, starts to make dinner with both kids hanging on her leg, only to have it burn. She receives no thanks from anyone and gets no paycheck.
While the above definition is a bit facetious, after watching my mother and grandmothers play a more traditional role, this doesn’t seem far off. I’ve spent many years suppressing my female qualities and fighting to be “just like a man” to avoid falling into that description. This has proved to be a very ineffective and unsatisfying way to live my life.
I’ve watched the 2016 American Election from a distance with utter disgust. I feel incredibly grateful to be a Canadian. While we have our political struggles too, I don’t have to make the decision between what I’ve heard referred to as “a liar and a clown.”
In watching Donald Trump, and the response of women all over the world, I’ve realized that as a woman in a male dominated profession, I encounter men like Donald Trump far too much for my liking. Until recently, I have been equally as disrespectful to these people as they have been to me. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t gotten me anywhere.
I work in an architecture firm in St. John’s, Newfoundland called Fougere Menchenton Architecture. Our firm is made up of 19 people, with myself and three other women. All of the other females in the office play support roles to men, like executive assistant. Before I started working here in 2013, there had never been a woman in a leadership role. The industry as a whole isn’t too much better, but is changing.
The same year I moved to Newfoundland marked the first architectural practice in the province owned and led by a woman: Taryn Sheppard co-owns a small design focused firm called Woodford Sheppard Architecture with Chris Woodford.
There are two other women in the province, that I’m aware of, who play a leadership role in multi-national firms. Ok, three women in leadership roles in a province with almost a hundred architects. In my experience, the industries that cross with architecture, such as construction and engineering are even more male dominated. It’s rough.
Most of my role models have been men, but not for lack of looking for their female counterparts. I’ve met lots of inspiring women in Atlantic Canada, but very few in the business world, most have led non-profits or arts organizations. I’ll take you through three people that have really shaped my thinking about leadership: my grandfather, Kristie Jameson, and my boss, Ron Fougere.
My grandfather is an incredibly cunning businessman and spent his working life in municipal government. He worked as the City Manager for many municipalities, most of them in Ontario, while many smaller municipalities were amalgamated into a larger one. While I love him dearly, his approach is to rule by an iron fist. It worked for him in his day, but now, I’d consider it to be an outdated management style.
Kristie is a good friend of mine, who runs a non-profit called Food First NL. Rather than leading with an iron fist, she empowers the people who work with her. I’d attribute a lot of this organization’s success to her. She’s taken what was once considered a group of hippies to one of the most effective food policy organizations in the country.
I relate to Ron as in many ways we have very similar personalities. His management style is effective. He’s a go-getter and a doer. He moves quickly, and inspires the people around him to keep all of the balls in the air. You can really count on him to get things done. So I tried following suite and emulated his approach, but it didn’t work. Mimicking his personality doesn’t capitalize on my strengths as a woman. When following his lead, I come off as aggressive and am often dismissed.
About a year ago, I read David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell, which inspired me to start making a change in the way I approach leadership. If you don’t know the story, the underdog, young David, beats the giant Philistine warrior, Goliath, by out smarting him. Rather than being frustrated that I was an underdog, this book empowered me to play a different game. To be smart instead of loud.
By nature, women are nurturers. We’re a lot better at inspiring others and working as part of a team than leading alone, myself included. Until I read that book, I thought I could do it all. If I just proved to everyone how smart or dedicated or organized I was, they’d respect me.
This approach intimidated others and led to an environment not conducive to collaboration. Rather than listening to me because they think I have something worthwhile to say, people would listen to me because they are scared of the outcome if they don’t.
But now, I listen. I admit my faults. I ask for help when I need it. I treat others with respect. Slowly but surely, I’m gaining the respect that I’ve always felt I deserve. Yes, the road would have been shorter if I was a tall handsome man, probably with some gray hair. But instead, I’m doing this as me, and people react positively to that.
It’s easier if you’re more attractive, wealthy, white, straight and have a neutral English accent. If you haven’t been born with all these things, like most of us, you can lead more effectively when you’re authentic.
I will not wear high heels to be as tall as you. I will not spend hours on my makeup so I’m prettier. I will not try to have more gray hair because it makes me seem more experienced. I will not let my anger cause me to treat anyone disrespectfully.
I will be myself. I will strive to be kind, gracious and empowering to those around me.
Any great organization succeeds because of many people. A great business prospers because there are diverse opinions and they are all valued. An effective non-profit thrives because of collaboration and team work.
To Donald Trump and others like you, I hope you are able to learn how wonderful diversity is. Don’t kill what is so central to the American Dream.