It’s cute when a doting parent places their hands over their kids’ ears to shelter them from non-age appropriate content. It’s not cute if you’re an adult on a business trip. To set the scene – picture yourself, the only female in a van full of men and they are talking about the good old boys’ club and then one of them places his hands over your ears when a dirty joke is said. WTF! Yes, this happened to me. And no, I didn’t do anything about it. Except nervously chuckle. #fail
I was young, and, in an industry, that is traditionally male-dominated. Earmuff like actions happened. I must clarify not all men partook in the boys’ club notion. I was hungry, passionate and a go-getter, which afforded me awesome opportunities. I would try to fit in the best I could, by being strong, knowing my business inside and out and letting things slide. I felt like I’d make progress and start a crack in the glass and then with one action like covering my ears in the van, the crack would be repaired.
I never thought the “ear muff actions” were done with malice and I don’t even think any of them knew that the actions were putting me into a different box – where I wasn’t quite a part of the club. I don’t think they would have continued doing that if I spoke up. But I didn’t. My response to what they were doing was causing an internal battle.
In college, I took a lot of woman studies classes and I knew how much some women struggled for standing their ground to lead the rest us of towards equality. And in the moments that I faced early on in my career, I couldn’t do anything – as I was afraid of losing my almost-in-the-box status.
This isn’t a poor me story. In fact, I appreciate it happened. Why? Well, it builds character. Trust me I’ve analyzed the exact moment probably a million times. I picture different scenarios of what could have happened. And every time – I support myself on the decision I made. While I was strong, I don’t think I was strong enough to take a stand. Today I am stronger, and I would have addressed the situation. I would have used my voice to eloquently let the person know that I could handle my own and a crude joke was okay for me to hear – after we were out of the van.
I’m assuming some of you have been through “ear muff actions” and the actions made you feel less than. It’s hard to feel less than. A natural reaction might be to get mad, angry and react. While it is OKAY to feel and acknowledge all your feelings, it is not always great to use them when you respond. Your response to the situation is crucial. I view my response as my way to prove what I’m made of. My rule of thumb is to take a breath. Then firmly and politely explain why I did not agree with the action. I remind myself that I do not always know the person well enough to determine their true intent. Especially if the action happens at work. Think about it, how well do you really know your co-workers? In some cases, you may know them well and you might react differently. In the scenario, I am describing I didn’t know them well – other than working with them in the office. I would not pass judgment on the action and I’d address the situation calmly. If it happened again, I would breathe a little deeper, keep my poise and communicate my point – once again. Now, this is where it gets harder – as it can get wearing dealing with the same individual(s) doing the same actions towards you over and over. Anger really starts to set in – but I caution you not to react with it. Holding onto anger only hurts you in the end. It can lead to stress, clouded judgment and take away from you achieving what you’ve set out to do.
If you want to act – I recommend staying consistent in how you respond to the situation. Keep reiterating your point with professionalism. Then look for a place you can turn to productively discuss your concerns. I know some industries have support groups you can be a part of. If you can turn to your boss, have a candid conversation with them to learn what you can do or turn to a trusted confidant to gain perspective. And most of all – if you do nothing else keep working hard and stay on your game. Remember, chances are you won’t be able to change the people you interact with, but you can choose how you react. Be strong! Showing your strength is your number one power.