Too many times in my career I have been the OWR: Only Woman in the Room. I got used to it, as did too many women who found themselves OWRs in rooms around the world.
Finally, another woman enters the room. Let us rejoice!
NOT SO FAST
In my early encounters with other women in the room, I was the junior female. Eager to please, I smiled a lot, nodded vigorously at every word uttered, offered a thought or two. I was ready to support my team, and contribute. So why the hell was the only other woman in the room glaring at me? Slighting me? Did she just dis me outright? I limped out of many meetings with hurt feelings if not full-on hostility toward the bitch of the boardroom, vowing never to be one of those women.
Until I was.
Eventually I was the senior woman in the room. It didn’t take long to realize I was one of those women. The younger and brighter the other woman in the room, the more I resisted her, found fault, gave her an uncharacteristic cold shoulder. After spending years mentoring and coaching women, I was exhibiting the same behavior I deplored.
How could this be?
I examined my behavior closely, looking for the motivation. During meetings with one or two women present, I paid attention to my feelings, my gut. And my gut spoke loud and clear: Survival.
LONE WOLF SYNDROME
While women as a gender have made great strides since the sixties, few have made it to the top. The higher you go, the fewer women in the room. Women have been programmed over decades to be the only woman in the room (on the list, on the board, at the retreat, sitting in First Class), and we have internalized this one tenet – there can be only one woman in the room. When another woman shows up, we subconsciously feel vulnerable. We must eradicate the threat. Kill or be killed.
It’s not bitchiness or pushiness.
Eventually and ultimately, half the participants in any given meeting must be women. We can learn from resources like LeanIn.org and Women in the Boardroom; we can start simply by rolling out the welcome mat.
Let’s overcome the fear, replace the survival instinct to kill with the survival instinct to nurture – to plant and grow more women in the room with us.
Let’s high-five each other, or fist-bump, or whatever – let’s get physical, joining energy, bolstering each other.
Let’s talk about our weekend plans or kids or cats or yoga or books, the same way guys talk about … sports. We can speak in code, too, you know.
Let’s get comfortable with being with other women, then let’s thrive on it.
Have you been victimized by a Lone Wolf? Have you been the Lone Wolf?