What would a “Work Like a Woman” campaign entail?
By Katie Jansen (VP of Corporate Marketing, AppLovin)
“Can you run and get coffee for everyone?”
Often the only woman in a meeting, the question haunts me. It seems to transcend my position and seniority. You know, because I’m a woman.
I’m also a mom of a five-year-old girl. When the “Run Like a Girl” campaign went viral, I asked her to run like a girl, to see what she would do.
She ran fast. She looked straight ahead. And at one point she turned around.
Why? She said, “Because that’s what I do when we run races. To see how much farther ahead of everyone I am.”
Very early, we get a few precious, blissful years to “run like a girl” before stereotypes weigh us down. By the time we enter the workforce, gender stereotypes have wormed their way into our psyche for decades.
We see “work like a woman” stereotypes on TV, we watch them play out in real life and we eventually face them straight on.
Women at work are “nice” and “accommodating.” And if not (even if it’s just about getting things done), it’s not always welcome. I’ve been called “aggressive” countless times — and not as a compliment. But I’m keenly aware that calling a man “aggressive” at work is a positive. What goes in the con column for me is a pro for him.
Even knowing that, each time, for a moment, I think, “To get my job done better I need to be nicer. Maybe I should slow down, apologize and make sure everyone likes me.”
But that’s bullshit. I’m a realist. And I’m ambitious. “Delightfully pleasant” isn’t a skill you can endorse on LinkedIn — and for good reason.
I cringe to think what a “Work Like a Woman” campaign would bring. A video of mockinly throwing back hair, giggling, nodding, smiling, gossiping and pretend-crying over trivial things?
We have to be the change. If you’re a more soft-spoken woman, that’s fine. Don’t change. But soft spoken doesn’t mean you need to accommodate everyone or fetch coffee. And for those of us who aren’t soft-spoken? We shouldn’t change either. I’m a direct and assertive business person, and I’m not going to change to make men or women feel less threatened.
Women and men alike have advised me just to give in to make work easier. Be less direct. Play golf. Wear a suit. Make sure no man leaves the office before I do. Even to go out of my way to compliment a man whom I know is threatened by me
Could playing along make it easier? Maybe. But “easier” doesn’t mean “better.”
I know I do a better job working to gets results. For me, that’s a focused and direct approach. It doesn’t leave a lot of room to get everyone coffee. But it not only allows me to be truer to myself, but also keeps the big picture in mind: negative stereotypes will never go away if we all opt for easy.
At the same time, I celebrate the “womanly” skills that make us better at business. For example, studies show women are better at multitasking than men. Women get called “scatter-brained” for working on so many things at once, but in reality, it’s likely great multi-tasking at play that keeps us on top of so many issues at once. Studies show we also do better in school, have higher IQs, are better bosses and make smarter investments. “Working like a woman” should connote those characteristics.
It’s easy to feel defeated, but I do see progress. My current (male) CEO commends my focus on results and “aggressiveness.” He encourages me to stand up to others when I have an opinion and tells me that “not everyone will like you — especially when you’re performing well.” My gender doesn’t matter, but my work does.
While we break stereotypes on the frontlines, we also need to set the example for the future we want. My kids see both my husband and me go to work. They also see my husband stay home with them or take a day off to go on a field trip with them just as often as I do. In our house, there’s no “work like a woman” or “be a man.” My husband and I are team, and we take pride in our dual roles.
My daughter is assertive now, but she has 17 years ahead of her before she enters the workforce. I want to make sure by the time she starts her first job, she won’t have to deal with hints that she should be “nicer” and “more accommodating.”
But if she does, I also hope she has the confidence to ignore them, keep her eyes straight ahead, and only turn around to see how much farther ahead she is than everyone else.
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