Women and the Will to Lead

I had a really fun lunch with a senior partner at my firm this afternoon.  Found out that we have a lot in common – both former tomboys who hate dressing-up, have two kids under 12, juggle work and life daily, etc.  Over soup and sandwiches at Panera (mmmm….), she asked whether I felt at a disadvantage being a woman within my firm.  I was surprised at the question because I have never felt that way at all.  Not where I work now, and not at the multiple firms that I have worked at before.  Got me thinking back to the last time that I ever felt at a disadvantage because of my gender.  I went all the back to my undergrad college days.

We were a class of 69 (to be) chemical engineers.  60 boys and 9 girls.  In the second year of college when it was election time for class representatives, a bunch of us (three to be specific) decided that the girls needed a voice.  I put my name up for class rep along with two other boys, who happened to be quite close friends of mine.  The class voted, and I secured a fabulous 15 votes in all.  To add insult to injury, several of the boys actually clapped and cheered when I got the 10th vote, registering their surprise that even one of their kind voted for a girl.  Needless to say, my two (male) friends won the elections by a landslide.  When I vented later to them about how badly the elections went, one actually said very matter-of-factly “It’s all for the best.  Most class representative meetings are held in the boys hostel at night.  What’s the point of you winning?  And by the way, neither of us voted for you.”

Ouch!

I do not recall my counter argument.  I lost the will to lead and did not stand for elections again.  I suppose I haven’t done too badly if the last brush with gender bias that I can recall is over 20 years back.  But this is one of the reasons I look up to Sheryl Sandberg, for making it her mission to help women lead and have their voices heard.  I could have used some pep talk a la “Lean In” back then.

I am still quite close friends with a lot of my college classmates.  And am married to one of them (no, N was not one of the aforementioned two).  Mostly, they have turned out to be wonderful husbands and dads.  Gender bias is a thing of the past with these fine gentlemen.

Well.  Mostly. 😉   

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