While traveling for business in Europe, I was invited to a dinner with colleagues. It quickly dawned on me that I would be dinning among 15 men that were much higher ranking.
I grew up friends mostly with boys simply because I was only allowed to go out if my brother chaperoned me – which meant hanging out with all his male friends. As I anticipated the dinner, selecting the right wardrobe became difficult. Should I wear a pant suit and blend in? or should I wear a dress, and show my feminine side?
"I looked around the room, it was obvious that there are unwritten rules."
As I took part in the pre-dinner conversation, several of the men quickly noticed the gender gap. My company is very progressive and the issue of women in the work place is something they take very seriously. Our industry is typically male dominated, but there are women leading parts of the business that are extremely successful. Yet, as I looked around the room, it was obvious that there are unwritten rules.
First, I think men in the workplace are often overly concerned that they will offend a woman, which leads to carefully crafted conversations and limits on jokes. My view is that we need to stop filtering the casual conversations simply because we are talking to the opposite sex. We won’t level the playing field until we can fully discuss the barriers and challenges in the same way we would do around our female colleagues.
Second, the most qualified person should always be at the table. I have always taken offense to any work promotions or school advantages simply because of my race or gender. Giving a woman a job based on her gender and not her qualifications is unfair to everyone. Yet, whatever insecurities I had about having a seat at the dinner table were clearly mine. After hearing much feedback on my work, there is no doubt these men respect me and felt I belonged next to them.
And third, everyone wants an answer. Clearly the men at the table want a diverse workplace – and probably would have preferred to have more females dining with them as opposed to just me. Was it luck that I ended up at that table? Certainly not, and I did not act like it was.
That dinner created more awareness. It brought to life the issue that everyone at that table has spoken about numerous times and I know that we planted a seed, and I plan to nurture it and watch it grow.
And by the way, I wore the dress.