LINKAGE Q1 (2021) - Choose To Challenge
By Kennedy Everett Maraj
A Boss Lady is someone who is strong, successful, commands respects and isn’t afraid to speak her mind or defend her rights or the rights of others.
All of these are amazing attributes for any leader to possess. Yet, for many women seeking to reach the Boss Lady status, the climb can be steep with many challenging obstacles in their path that prevents them from ever reaching this position.
To become a Boss Lady, women often must weigh outdated social norms and familial expectations against personal ambitions while trying to navigate a world that demands that they stay in their lane and never disrupt the old boys club. This can be daunting, but it hasn’t stopped women from challenging the status quo and making sure they are accepting their Boss Lady status whether as CEOs of major companies, owners of their own businesses or leading the household. Women are reclaiming their Boss Lady power to challenge and conquer the world. But what can we do to get more women to elevate their positions and Boss Lady status in society?
For Andrea Robinson, Founder, President & CEO of Robinson Global Management, a multidisciplinary firm specialising in public sector procurement consulting, advisory and training services in Canada, the solution begins with women having to find their voice. As one of the Featured Speakers at AMCHAM T&T’s 7th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference, Robinson told the virtual audience that when women talk about finding their voice, they must first figure out what their starting point is. Finding that starting point may sometimes force women to discredit their achievements and qualifications because they may feel they have nothing substantial to contribute, or they lack the experience and skills on the topic. Unlike men, women often ask themselves questions like “Do I have something to say? Is my voice legitimate?” before they make their voice heard.
In these situations, Robinson encourages women to do their research and find the right platform when they are ready to use their voice. “When you're ready and you've chosen to have a voice, it's important that you find legitimate grounds if that is possible,” she says. “If not, you create them. Find your platform that may be within your organisation or it may be outside of your organisation.”
While knowing your starting point is essential, a major hurdle that restricts women from finding their voice often has to do with experiences related to “mansplaining”. Ask any woman anywhere and she will tell you that she has been in a situation where she has found her voice to eloquently articulate her view or opinion on a topic, only for a man to interrupt and explain what she would have previously said.
It’s an experience that Robinson says she has encountered many times with men who feel they must comment or explain something a female subordinate has just said with much bravado, arrogance and condescension. “I sent an email out and the email that came back to me used the word pedantic two or three times,” Robinson said. “There was a smiley face emoji and I was told, "I highlighted your words in your second sentence but what I think you meant to say, was yada, yada, yada…”
In these moments she recommends women take a break to find patience and continue working with purpose. “Take a break and phone a friend, have a snack and really think of the things that are important and the ones that are not because at the end of the day you are working with purpose and you can't do so alone. You will need others, even the person who mansplain back to you or even if it’s a woman who is giving you a little bit of attitude. I think we've all probably done so ourselves so if people have been patient with us then we can be patient with others.”
Apart from telling a woman what you think she meant to say instead of just listening to or reading what she did say, Robinson says, women can encounter many different forms of mansplaining. The most notable ones are:
● Confusing differences of opinion with a difference in intelligence
This usually starts off when someone starts listing all their credentials before they make their point. In these moments, Robinson admits that she knows this is not going to go very well. “So, you just kind of put that smile on and just wait for them to finish and give them their grace.”
● Explaining experiences
This refers to explaining experiences that are not your own while trying to relate to a woman how she should feel about a situation that happened to her.
● Using belittling language to women simply because they are women
Women usually cite being “talked-over” as a prime example of belittling language used by men towards them. Other incidents involved being spoken down to or physically looked down upon by men simply because you are female.
● Speaking to a woman differently than you would speak to a man
This happens when a person changes the way they communicate with you simply because you are a woman. They may use smaller words, almost speaking to you in baby language.
While many women have faced one of these forms of mansplaining that has limited their voice, Robinson says it is also a good rule of thumb for women and men to just do their best and let folks have their own voice and say their piece. If this becomes the workplace culture, then more women can find their voices and claim their status to becoming a natural born Boss Lady.
It would be nice to live in a world like this but unfortunately, the reality shows that every time a woman finds her voice and claims her power to lead, she is usually met with resistance from men who feel threatened and intimidated. This scenario is another challenge that women must conquer to be the Boss Lady. How can men react to the assertiveness of female leaders?
“I've been kicked in a meeting when I spoke when someone didn't want me to speak,” says Robinson. “That was by a colleague! I've had eyes rolled. I've had paper tossed my way. I've had a pen tossed my way. I've been told to sit down, and I won't use the word after that but be quiet. I've been told to sit down and smile. I've been told to look pretty.”
Robinson says some of these things happen because people do not like change nor do they like to see women as leaders taking on an assertive role or being comfortable in their own skin. “But those are not excuses to toss things,” she argues to women. “You have to be who you are, and I will always advocate for women, young people, people of colour, men, new immigrants or anyone that needs a voice. They should have that voice heard and we need to recognize that things are changing rapidly.”
However, as a young employee, being kicked or otherwise belittled was intimidating. “From some of those experiences, I went silent. I did not speak up again in meetings for days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes never again in those surroundings. I may have quit. But I found that some of my greatest supporters and folks who had advised and advocated for me had been men, as well as women. So, it's important that we all just do this together and not demonise but work together proactively to do what needs to be done for the younger people coming behind us, but also do it for ourselves.”
Robinson said Boss Ladies should not try to adopt just one of the 15 or 20 established leadership styles to find their voice or to be successful. Instead, it’s about finding their own strengths and abilities and doing what they do best for themselves as well as the team they lead. “I need to lead from behind, I got to lead from in front, I got to be side-by-side. Sometimes I've got to be in all of those positions depending on the topic and the issue at hand.”
“As women, we are sometimes scared away from being the autocrat or the authoritarian, and if we're coaching or transactional by doing a lot of mentorship, training and encouragement, sometimes this can be deemed to be soft or not really being a good leader. But there are benefits to all of these approaches coming together.”
“I think we are who we are and what works best for you and your team is what you need to lean into and that will change from time to time as your team grows and as individual team members become more experienced,” she said.
Ultimately, Robinson advises that Boss Ladies, like all leaders, must be the change they want to see. “Sometimes you will look around and you will be frustrated at the things you would like to see happen in your community, in your world, or in a simple weekly meeting. If something is not working, then suggest a change, particularly if that is one where you think or feel that team members are not being heard, then make it happen. This may mean sharing your voice with others where you can see it is not happening organically. It may not happen right away, but over time you need to continue taking up that mantle until it does happen especially where you think it is worth it.”
Andrea Robinson is the Founder, President & CEO of Robinson Global Management, a Women Business Enterprise Council Canada Certified company. Andrea received the 2020 WBE Canada Leader Award for exemplary leadership and community contribution and received the 2019 WBE Canada Rising Star Award for economic, business, and innovative impact in the diverse supplier community.
Kennedy Everett Maraj is the Communications and Events Officer at AMCHAM T&T.
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