I’m slowly starting to get comfortable with calling myself an entrepreneur.
It’s a title I’ve shied away from in the past, because I felt silly taking ownership of it before I had a major success story to tell.
The fact of the matter is, I hustle daily to provide for my family, have been self-employed my entire life and am constantly ideating and grinding away at bringing new ideas and business endeavors to life. I think that ticks a few of the entrepreneurial boxes and the journey that I’m on is hopefully the precursor to future successful businesses. In the meantime, I need to heed my own advice and start believing that I’m already where I want to go, it just hasn’t all happened quite yet.
So today, I’m here to tell you, as an entrepreneur (eek!) and one who also happens to be a young(ish) woman, about one of the biggest challenges I continually face on my journey. If you are female-identifying or presenting, this will likely be a challenge you face in any work field, so I hope this resonates with you.
To put it bluntly, the challenge is …men.
In my personal experience, particularly older ones, but the condescending tone a lot of men take with women in the workplace isn’t ageist. I’m currently working hard as the founder of a startup and much of the “feedback” that I’ve received from older men along the way has been about my “approach”.
For some context, I’ve been working in a fast-paced environment with high pressure and expectations since I was 13. In turn, I learned a lot about how to behave and interact professionally early on in life. Sometimes, admittedly, the hard way. At the ripe age of 31, I feel confident that I know how to handle myself in a way that is engaging and pleasant to work with, but still assertive and ensures I’m taking care of myself and business. If I don’t, no one else will. As they say, “it’s business!”
With my role as founder of this company, there are a lot of moving parts that require my oversight. We have incredible people working collectively on bringing this vision to life and they are all rockstars at what they do. My role is to keep them all moving in a direction that serves the overall vision for the company. This means that I’m required to voice my opinion and the decisions made for the company must get my stamp of approval along the way.
Whether you are an employee working under an umbrella of execs or a CEO serving as the umbrella itself, you will likely come into contact with members of the opposite sex who challenge you in ways they simply would not if you were of a common gender.
I’ve had my “approach” brought to my attention several times when making calls that went against something that was being proposed by an older male on the team. This scenario hasn’t been specific to one person. It’s happened several times regarding several calls on things proposed by several different older men. And you guessed it – the people raising concerns about my “approach” were other older men. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
And every time, I was instantly hit with a wave of hot panic. I’d scour my brain to replay conversations and discover how I may have handled situations poorly or in a way that didn’t speak to the company culture I hoped to create. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m all for self-awareness and growth. When conflict arises and discomfort follows suit, I push through that discomfort to learn lessons about myself that I can carry forward in a positive direction for the future. I’ve been forced to do this many times since I was that 13-year-old on set and I’ve evolved into a professional woman that I am quite proud of.
When I racked my brain to find where I may have misstepped and uncover these learning lessons, I found nothing. I even consulted with other team members to ask if they flagged anything in my behavior that I was missing. Nada. So, who were these men to make me question myself so critically?
They were people conditioned by the patriarchal society we live in to believe that their work, their opinions and their status are superior to mine merely because they are (older) men.
Well, fuck that.
I will continue to share my opinion.
I will continue to make calls that challenge what others are presenting if I feel strongly that what is presented is not the right decision.
I will continue to assert myself and my ideas.
I will continue to show up in your inbox with the occasional swear word, “lol” and exclamation point!
I will continue to be kind, respectful and professional …but don’t you dare tell me to be sweet, smile more or let others take the reins when they belong to me.
If someone says something to me that I know they wouldn’t bring to a man in the same way or for the same reason, I’m learning to know that I’m entitled to stand up and say, “don’t talk to me like that.” I hope, wherever you are on your journey, you are too.
You’re strong, you’re smart, you’re talented and you have every right and reason to be treated as an equal at the table. So take your seat with your head held high and if a man challenges you in an ageist and/or sexist way, don’t be afraid to stand the fuck up and demand better.
You got this.
Shenae Grimes-Beech is an actor and YouTuber with a highly engaged community of like-minded women who are here to stand up for what they believe in and lean into discomfort, especially when it means doing the right thing.