I was at an event this past weekend and, as I usually do, wandered around the room speaking to various people afterwards. With one particular person I asked one of my normal questions; “what is your biggest business challenge at the moment?” to which the reply I got back was “I am a woman and I’m black”. Defining yourself in this way is surely not a “challenge”, not in the 21st century or am I being naïve?
I was surprised by my reaction. The first was to feel a slight physical tremor of shock. The second was to be rather taken aback. Surely, this could not still be a problem in this day and age…could it? It gave me pause for thought.
Defining yourself by your interactions.
Maybe I’m strange, however, when I walk into a room of people my brain doesn’t cast around determining who is male or female. Nor does it register whether they be white, pink, brown, black or purple. I walk into a room of fellow human beings for whom I have the utmost respect and wish to interact with as I trust they will return me the same favour. At a network event it is more usual to be defining yourself by position in the company and what it is you can offer or are looking for.
I don’t even stop to think that I am a woman or that my skin is a brown colour as that has no bearing on what I can do. I certainly do not consider them as obstacles to what I am aiming to achieve. I suppose, most importantly, I am conscious of who I am as a person and I am certain as to what I know and can contribute in a given situation. If I am there to advise and relate that is what I do, if I am there to learn that is what I seek and if I am there to listen then I will give the person speaking my attention.
Defining yourself by gender- limiting or liberating?
Of course, once talking to someone a person’s physical attributes and the name they give will have a bearing on how I will remember them in the future however I meet a great many people and have found that men can have feminine characteristics just as women can have masculine. And once again ethnicity has no bearing whatsoever.
The lady in question I was talking with at the event works in the financial services sector which I’ll admit does still seem to be predominately male orientated. It was particularly so when I worked in it back in the 80’s and 90’s but I’ve seen more and more women in the companies I now work with and, or so I thought, they appear to have reached the more senior, upper roles and beyond.
Could it be that I am mistaken? Is it possible that women still feel held back by their gender? And surely ethnicity no longer has any bearing? Many women I know celebrate their gender and see it as an asset, yet clearly there are still too many defining themselves negatively as women.
These are questions I am going to take to heart and look for answers. I am hopeful that as I look I will be encouraged that it is no longer the case, but should I find that it is, then that is definitely an area that will need disrupting. If you see your gender and/or race as a challenge, then maybe it is time for you and us to change the narrative and stop defining yourself and ourselves in these limiting ways?