Want to lead as a woman? Don’t be tall...or short, or cute, or old, or…

Okay, first a warning. This blog entry is going to be a bit graphic. A little real. I had one of those weeks. It came to a head at the end of this week when I had a meltdown, stepped outside of the office and screamed/cried into the phone to a friend:

“What does a woman have to do to get respect in her position?!”

 To be clear, I am in no way condoning violence against men. 

To be clear, I am in no way condoning violence against men. 

Let me back up. An interesting thing has happened to me in the past few months. For whatever reason, recently, I’ve been approached by a lot of men under the guise of business, who have had other intentions. I know I am not the only woman that this happens to, and I want to establish here that I don’t think I’m particularly special so please don’t read into the following as any kind of ego boost or humble brag.

Gross.

 This is not me.

This is not me.

I think that women are so self-aware and concerned with coming off narcissistic that we fail to talk about these things. Let’s be better than that.

This past week I’ve felt like a female guppy. Forgive the science reference. Female guppies often starve to death unable to forage efficiently because of unrelenting male harassment. It's a real thing. I’ve been so busy fending off male advances (while delicately balancing their needs for business and maintaining those important relationships) that I haven’t had time to eat.

 Guppy starving away.

Guppy starving away.

Let me give you a clearer idea of my week.

Monday:

I have a business lunch that, after an hour of me attempting to discuss the business I came to discuss, the man asks, “Okay, what next?” As in, “where do I want to go to spend more of my time with him,” not, “how do we proceed with this business proposition?”
 
Hi. I’m a busy woman. I did not schedule my entire afternoon to hold hands and dance around town with you. You’re here on business for the day. Entertain yourself. That is not my responsibility. Not that I said a word of that…

Tuesday:

I connect with someone I think will be a great business prospect on LinkedIn. He immediately responds to my request. I’m friendly, cordial, and professional in our conversations back and forth all day but soon I’m hearing about his divorce, how lonely he is, how I came into his life at the perfect time, and when can he fly up to see me?

Wait, what?! What just happened?

Monday man has called twice.

Wednesday:

Tuesday man calls my phone and leaves three separate voicemails along with half a dozen texts. Meanwhile, I’m asked by another colleague:

“What will you do when you’re no longer young and cute. How will you sell your speaking engagements?”

Um…I don’t know….I thought I had some valuable content, but maybe that PhD stood for something like Phony Damsel.

Monday man asks me what I’m doing this weekend.

Thursday:

Monday man is texting me pics of his kids and asking when we can “hang out again.” Tuesday man has sent a dozen more texts and is asking for dates that I’m free so we can "spend some quality time getting to know one another better."

I have dinner and talk business with another potential client. Things are going well. But then…“Why aren’t you married? You don’t have kids?! Why doesn’t a girl like you have a husband? I have a friend you should meet. I’m going to have him call you.”

Do I look that desperate? I don’t have time to date. I’m actually quite content at home snuggled up with my dog. Maybe I don’t need a husband, kids, or your friend to have a meaningful, fulfilling life.

 Yeah. Life is good. 

Yeah. Life is good. 

Friday: 

Thursday man’s friend is calling me. Monday and Tuesday men are now both blowing up my cell phone and whenever I don’t respond they dangle just enough of a business carrot out there that I bite and it’s right back to their dating game. Another man, who I have been working with for a while and has the potential to significantly help my career, starts calling me “Legs.”

And enter meltdown mode.

 Cue the meltdown.

Cue the meltdown.

People that I’ve shared some of these tidbits with have asked me, “why don’t you just tell these crazy men to go to hell?!”

Two reasons:

  1. If I did that, our client list would be cut in half.
  2. I’m not a mean person.

How is it my responsibility to be mean when someone else puts me into an unprofessional space? When did being a nice individual give you permission to read into my smile as a come-on?

So let me repeat the question now that I was yelling to my friend in the phone.

“What does a woman have to do to get respect in her position?!”

Or perhaps better put, what does a woman need to be to become a respected leader?

Based on my week I concluded that we (women) certainly can’t be unmarried and nice.

We can’t be too short. If we’re too short we aren’t taken seriously and are patronized like little girls. But we can’t be too tall either, or we intimidate the men around us.

We can’t dress too sexily or too stuffy. When was the last time a man had to worry about how sexually alluring his outfit might be when he was going to a business meeting?

We can’t be too young or we don’t know what we’re talking about, but older women are all evil and nasty – just watch any Disney movie for proof.

 Seriously...any Disney movie. 

Seriously...any Disney movie. 

We need to be smart, but not too smart. Unthreatening.

If we have kids, we are just “moms” who also happen to work, but if we don’t have kids, we obviously aren’t caring enough or balanced enough, or capable enough.

What is enough anyway? Whatever it is, I've had about enough.

I simply can’t solve this puzzle. Maybe you all can help me. What does it take? Who do we need to be as female leaders, to warrant respect?

As always, I’ll look forward to your comments.