Today, I wanted to share three stories that I’ve collected on what it can feel like to be a woman or person of color in my field – architecture. Names and identifying details have been altered, but the basic structure of these stories is true—and they are recent. They are not from the 1950s or 1960s, they are from today.
When I first started my business, I found myself staring down an empty work calendar. I was totally unbooked–except for one tiny little workshop gig. I didn’t know how to get work, I didn’t know what I what I was selling. I had no clue what to say at cocktail parties.
I felt like an impostor.
If you looked in Jae’s closet, you would have seen a scene straight out of those movies where the main character needs to loosen up–rows of the same shirts, pants and jackets–all in black and white.
I’ve written to you before about how I see issues of confidence as the #1 thing that holds women back from their full potential — no matter where they are in their career — it just shows up in different ways.
For that reason, I’ll soon be releasing Defeat Self Doubt, a mini course that I’ve created to help you put self doubt to the side. It will help you rewire your brain for more confidence and ease. Rewiring your brain is all about little hacks that help you build a new reality that you first start to live–then start to believe. Over the next few weeks I want to share with you a few hacks that I used to do that for myself, especially when starting my business–which was imposter syndrome central for me.
I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions.
New Year’s intentions–well that’s another thing.
Last weekend I went to a conference and found myself in small conversation–just me and three other men. I very quickly noticed that they were only making eye contact with each other–and even more frustratingly–one of them even had his body turned away from mine–effectively closing me out of the conversation.
I was so frustrated and angry. I wanted to rant and rave. I wanted to jump up and down like a child screaming, “But I’m an empowerment coach! I teach women how to hold power.”
“I have alpha-body language! I’m doing everything right!
You can’t do this to me!”
But there’s the rub. Women’s power is not just dependent on us doing our part to move past the internalized barriers that hold us back–it’s also dependent on the world we operate in and the unconscious bias that everyone carries.
These guys were not trying to be sexist–conversely, they are part of a community that was founded in part on gender parity. But they also live in a world in which a man’s opinion is worth more than a woman’s. We all unconscionably perform these assumptions–like the time I automatically complimented a female friend on a dish, and didn’t even think to compliment her male partner. (He had, in fact, actually been the chef.)
I was so pissed off last weekend that I walked off in a huff–something I’m not proud of. But in a situation like that, what do you do? Do you explicitly call someone out and say, “Can you please change your body language, it expresses your unconscious belief that I’m less worthwhile because I’m a chick?” Do you avoid these groupings all together (“If they don’t need us, we don’t need them!”) or is there another answer?
In truth, it’s complicated, and there are different answers for different situations.
It’s hard to rise at a company that structurally and intractably doesn’t value women, but most of the time, there are ways through.
And I’m on a mission to find those ways out.
The next day I ran into a wise-woman at the same conference. This sixty plus-year old woman fits the classic typology of sassy lady. She’s been leaning in her entire life–running a business and making big decisions for her family. She regularly gets mistaken for a secretary or aide at the industry conferences she goes to, even though she’s the big boss.
“I would have just said, ‘Excuse me, can you turn a little bit? I’m having a hard time seeing the other guy,'” she said when I told her about my experience. Brilliance!
Sometimes the simplest approach is the best, and sometimes we let ourselves get distracted, and a small moment can blow up into the overwhelming feeling that we’ll always have to work twice as hard as the guys to get anywhere, and the futility of it all can be demoralizing. But don’t let that happen. Stay the course because you will get there, and there are always chinks and cracks in the walls ahead of us.
I got an email the other day from a coaching student that showed me I was making an impact. She forwarded an email that she had sent that week to a consultant she was working with.
I think it’s a model for all of us.
Have you ever been at a party with that guy that can’t stop talking about himself?
We’ve all been there, our smiles plastered to our faces, while inside, we’re tracking, like predators that break in the conversation that means we can get out, get out!
Mia Scharphie, the Build Yourself+ founder is in this month’s issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. The profile covers the ways she sees issues of impact and community change and frames the Build Yourself+ as part of a larger philosophy.
Click here to read the full profile.
“Sit at the table.”
I heard Sheryl Sandberg’s words echo in my head as I glided into the chilly conference room. I had been invited as an afterthought. I was the first (and only) research fellow of a university architecture department, in a position the dean had created for me to pursue my research. Few people knew who I was or that the position even existed. I was invited to the department’s board meeting in which I’d present my research if we had extra time. (We didn’t.)