Learning to sit at the table.

Every individual, male or female, should read “Lean In”, by Sheryl Sandberg. And if you are not ready to read it; buy it, keep it in plain sight and read it when ready. Then pass it on to your children when they’re old enough.

I avoided it for 3 years. “I am not a feminist and equality exists so why read a book about females being leaders” I would think. In fact the only reason I read the book was because it was given as a gift and I was bored so I picked it up…and didn’t put it down until the end.

After every page I would become more and more embarrassed – recognising the mistakes I made and make daily – judging females (and myself) for being either too feminine or not feminine enough; for being too hard or too soft. Just last week, having supper with a friend and her husband, he and I entered into a heated but friendly debate on a certain topic. At the end of it and after agreeing with my viewpoint, I felt like I had come across too aggressive so apologised! Would I have apologised if I was having the same discussion with a female? Probably not.

Later that week, my female colleague almost had an argument with two male colleagues and it was only afterwards (and once she explained in layman’s terms to me) did I understand her reaction in the meeting. I was actually embarrassed that I needed it explained to me – I was so focused on listening to what the males were saying that I misunderstood what she was trying to tell them and didn’t even understand how it fit in to the meeting. Embarrassing.

So many points resonated with me while reading this book. As a child I was supported in the same way as my brother with the same expectations and very rarely heard the “but you can’t because you’re a girl” sentence. I competed and argued and fought with the boys as much as the girls. We were equal; all the way to university. I refused to think otherwise or to support females any more than I would support males. I was a tomboy; a proud title I thought. I felt more confident if I could do something better than a male, but in most instances I felt indifferent if I did something better than a female. Competing with males proved more than competing with females. What an embarrassing way of thinking.

Sadly, it was only in my tenth year of my working career that I truly realised that men and women are not treated equally and that in many instances I hid away from this topic in fear of being seen as confrontational or “as one of those females.” A few weeks ago I even realised that I am more confident in meetings where there are more females than males; triple checking my thoughts before being vocal; doubting my belonging, intelligence or abilities a lot more when males outnumber females.

While confidence is key; acceptance of who we are is important and probably most importantly, learning that our place is a seat at the table. Next to and with males. Not on the sidelines. And in all aspects of life; career and personal – Equal. Always.

As Sheryl Sandberg stated, “These experiences taught me that I needed to make both an intellectual and emotional adjustment…I stll face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while men sitting next to me are not. But now I know to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.”

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