A friend of mine was hiring for her new, hot startup. During the process, she interviewed a candidate with one of her employees—the woman who would be his boss.
The interview was going well and this candidate, a young white man, asked, ‘but who would be my boss?’
My friend was worried as she thought it had been clear all along that her employee and co-interviewer would be his direct supervisor and she explained as such.
But he didn’t get it.
“But who would be my boss?”
My friend was confused, until she realized that at a basic level something wasn’t penetrating. He just couldn’t see this woman—the Black woman in the interview with him—as his boss, as someone in power.
At some level, he believed there was an authoritative white man out there in the wings who would be telling him what to do.
Now, it doesn’t usually happen as shockingly as this. It’s usually more subtle—it’s your intern not looking at you when he presents his work on a meeting, but instead, looking at the person who ‘looks’ more authoritative even if he’s just another intern. It’s the guy who got hired after you getting picked to represent the firm even though you have more knowledge.
And sometimes no one even knows what’s happening. My friend is attuned to these dynamics. She was able to put two and two together. Not all people in positions of authority see these dynamics.
Many times, those people are in rooms without you, making decisions that affect your career.
So what do you do?
You can act the part. You can use the skills of confidence building, of powerful mindset that I’ve been sharing with you on this list to act the part of the authority you want to be treated with. You can lean on your mentors, sponsors, wingpeople and supporters—proactively let them know what opportunities and exposure you want so they can work on your behalf when you’re not in the room. And you can use your power to change the culture—to give equitable credit, to recognize women and people of colors’ power.
These are not easy to do. Not only do they take courage and gumption, but it takes a little bit of mental ninja work to figure out what they mean for your life.
I’ve found that coming together with other women who are taking this on and learning from their journey is the shortcut.
So let’s share. Does this happen to you? What do you do when someone undercuts your authority? I’d love to hear from you—send me an email and let me know what this means right now in your life.