One of the unique things about my law school is that the majority of the deans are women. They are well-educated, capable professionals with serious resumes. But even when a woman has an enviable title, skill set, and credentials, sometimes insecurities can creep out.
In a fifteen-minute speech, one of the deans used phrases, jokes and asides that repeatedly undercut her position and credentials. “As you can see, most of us are women. I promise we’re all qualified to be here,” she said. “And we do have one man. He’s qualified too.” It was an attempt at humor, but it fell flat because there was no confidence behind the joke. She barely looked up from the lectern.
Over the rest of her talk, she made comments about how she didn’t feel qualified for her job when it was offered to her and how people didn’t take her seriously at times. At one point, she actually said, “You’re probably wondering why they sent me up here.” The feminist inside me kept wondering what would make her think she didn’t belong in the position of power she holds?
Regardless of job title and skill set, many professional women act and speak as if they need to justify their presence at the head of the table. They feel the need to explain why they are leading meetings or crack jokes about putting a woman in charge. It is a lesson that I want all of us to unlearn.
It reminds me of a YouTube video from a college poetry contest in which the poet says, “I asked five questions in genetics class today, and all of them started with the word, ‘Sorry’.”
Why do so many of us feel the need to apologize for taking up space that we are entitled to? Why aren’t we more like men who never seem to feel the need to justify their position?
Most people assume that if you’re in a position of power, you deserve to be there and if you project that power, they won’t doubt your skills unless you give them a reason to do so. But many women assume that they’re being doubted, so they try to compensate for the presumed doubt up front. All this does is weaken their position and undercut their status.
This is something that I’ve intermittently struggled with throughout my career and it hurts me to see other women slogging through as if their presence demands a justification. If someone selects you to give a talk, lead a meeting, or hold a position of authority, you earned this opportunity. Don’t feel uncomfortable occupying the space that you have every right to occupy. Bosses don’t just give away positions of authority and purpose, have confidence in your accomplishments and the hard work and skills that got you there.
All women need to learn to be more careful with our words to make sure that we’re not pulling the rug out from under ourselves. Lord knows, there are plenty of people willing to do it for us. So behave like the qualified professional that your resume says you are and project that “manly” confidence that says, “I belong here. I earned my place. I don’t have to justify anything.”