I come from a family of strong women. In my world, women were the ones who ran the households, who made the big decisions and worked stressful, high-powered jobs. I’ve always gravitated toward those types of women who have “executive leadership skills” -- they know what they want and how to get there and won’t let anyone stand in their way.
When I decided to work in sports, a traditionally male dominated profession, I expected to find plenty of women like that. But for a long time, those women were few and far between for me. Instead, I encountered women who were threatened by my presence, who did whatever they could to stand in my way or to bring me down, because to them, seeing me succeed meant that they couldn’t. It felt like they’d use me as a rung on the ladder to climb higher. They’d critique my work more than my male counterparts, they’d gossip behind my back, they’d comment on my attire.
After reading Katie’s recent post about our culture of comparison, I think that a lot of the hostility some women have toward their female counterparts stems from that: their lack of security in themselves, maybe in their own abilities and therefore, in their position, made them feel threatened.
So, how do we overcome that?
If you’re currently working with someone like that, know first of all that the way they’re treating you in their issue, not yours. This is their stuff that they have to deal with and if you were smarter or more creative or nicer, it wouldn’t matter; they’d probably treat you the same way. Be confident in your own abilities, and, if you’re doing the best you can and being your most amazing self, you are doing all that you can. Stay true to yourself, and everything will fall into place.
Also, don’t ever forget how you’re feeling right now, in this moment, and carry that with you throughout your professional career.
Know that you’re always in a position to be an ally, regardless of the stage of your career.
How do you become a good ally?
1. Give us opportunities. This one sounds obvious. To promote the visibility of women in this profession, there need to be more of us. Back when I was working in sports, I noticed that, whether I was on a hiring committee or just putting out a general call for volunteers, a slim margin of women would even apply for those positions, despite the fact that I personally knew many qualified women. How many times when searching the job listings because, like me, you’re
curious and nosy or because you’re genuinely looking for a position, do you come across a posting and think of how perfect someone would be for that role? Even if you don’t know that person well enough, tell them about it. Have a friend looking for volunteers for a basketball tournament? Share the opportunity with your female students, coworkers and counterparts. Know of an open position working with sports that a Twitter friend also works with? Tell that friend, and then tell five other women. Are you in a capacity to hire students? Hire women, and then introduce those women to five more opportunities. Always keep in mind that you have privilege to be in the position you’re in, understand that many may not be given the opportunities you’ve been given because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic class, and do what youcan to provide opportunities to those who don’t have your privileges.
2. Support us. Early in my career, I had a coworker say, “you all want to be treated the same as men, so I’m going to treat you the same as I’d treat a man.” Yeah, I didn’t know what to do either. Women and men are not biologically wired the same. One of the first posts that I wrote for this amazing blog was about why being a female SID worked to my advantage. Women have a greater capacity to empathize and we have higher emotional aptitude. To succeed, we need
to be treated differently, but we also need to be given a little encouragement. How many times have you seen men who aren’t qualified for a job apply for the position, yet plenty of qualified women you know think they’re not qualified and do not apply? Support those women, and make sure they believe in their qualifications and their abilities. Encourage us. My current supervisor is one of the best I’ve ever had, and that’s because I know that she cares deeply about seeing me succeed. My success is her success because she hired me. She looks good if I produce an awesome video, or write a killer story, or score an awesome band for an all-school assembly. If one of us succeeds, if one of us does something incredible, we all succeed.
3. Hear us and believe us. My first friend is sports has evolved into one of my closest friends in the world. Samantha and I met my junior year in college, working in Buffalo State’s athletic department and then working gamedays for the Buffalo Bills. Samantha is a member of the Seneca nation, was born and raised by amazing parents in the city of Buffalo, and is a social activist. She has the greatest desire to make the world better for women, specifically women of
color. As a white woman from an upper middle class family, I cannot possibly understand her point of view on the world. Last year, she visited me in San Diego and we started talking about a white nationalist rally that she and her husband had driven past in Buffalo, and she feared for her life. I said that I understood because, as someone who was raised Jewish, that would terrify me. Sam stopped me right there and, in a lot nicer terms, told me to stop and just listen. Just
listen to those who have different experiences, respect those experiences, and know that you can’t possibly understand their point of view because you haven’t lived it. For a better explanation, please watch this video by Chescaleigh. The very first point Chescaleigh makes in this video is that if your friend is building a house and they ask you to help, but you’ve never built a house, you would put on protective gear and listen to the person in charge. The same idea should apply to being an ally. Listen, learn and believe, always believe, in what the person is saying. Use your privilege to amplify that person’s voice.
As Chescaleigh mentions in her video referenced above, understand that being an ally is a verb, not a noun. If you mess up, that’s okay. Apologize and learn from your mistakes. Give us opportunities, take actions to support us, listen and believe us and use your privilege for good. Check out this wonderful cartoon if you need another push on how to be an ally. Ask and seek out information if you want to learn more. And above all, practice empathy.