Here’s the situation: I’m in a meeting with my coworker, Liz, our boss, and a few other members of our small team. Liz is explaining to us why she wants to put a process in place for new signups to our SaaS product. It’s a sensible suggestion, but our boss is reluctant. Here is Liz’s chance to sway him.
She says, looking at the table, “I’m probably just being over-procedural like normal, but I feel like it’s kind of important that we have something like a process for newcomers?”
Our boss doesn’t look convinced.
She continues, “I just think… if we have a set order of operations now, it’ll be easier when we start to get big — not that we couldn’t manage even then, but it would definitely be a little simpler, don’t you think?”
Silence reigns in the room.
So when my colleague Liz was speaking up there, even though to my boss it looked like unprofessional floundering, I recognized the classic symptoms of “speaking while female.”
She was trying to convey the fact that our current process, designed by our boss, is flawed. Not through any fault of its own, it’s simply outdated for our current business model.
However, she’s learned that our boss is touchy. He values feedback only as long as it’s positive, or couched in terms of self-deprecation, hence why Liz referred to herself as “over-procedural” as a way to excuse her implication that his idea was not effective.
Assertiveness is a two-sided sword for women. It’s simultaneously necessary to be successful and get your ideas across, but it’s read as aggressive, bitchy, bossy.
To enact change, we need to go through so many societal contortions to get our criticism deemed acceptable. We always walk the fine…