Jen Wyeth, Vice President, Strategic Planning, Versant Health
Women still struggle to show their true selves in the workplace. Whether we become stuck in dying stereotypes only to overcompensate with a punch down attitude – or simply minimize ourselves to stay afloat in ever-changing currents; we cannot and will not become the leaders we aspire to be until we stop apologizing for who we are and lean into our personal truths. We are not any less of a leader, mother, partner, or friend because we choose to show the same woman in the workplace, as we do off the clock. Over time, I’ve learned to shrug off the stigmas, stereotypes, and unconscious biases society places on women. When I can bring my authentic self to the workplace, I not only do my best work but aspire to provide light for other women trying to navigate their way through the sometimes murky waters of self-realization.
Looking back, being my authentic self often meant that I had to prove myself. For example, I became the first female sports editor of my high school newspaper. I faced a lot of pushback in that role despite playing varsity sports. In college, I pursued a highly-competitive marketing internship with a beloved Chicago sports team. There were long-established rules – both spoken and unspoken – and necessary codes of conduct within the organization. There were also heartbreaking realizations that being yourself was still frowned upon as a woman in the workplace.
I worked under a strong female leader. She was well respected in the locker room and the office and broke down stereotypes right before my eyes. I knew instinctively that I didn’t check the traditional boxes of women working in professional sports at that time – neither did she – and she helped me realize that I had a responsibility to be okay with going against the grain in the name of authenticity.
On a humid July afternoon, I was called into HR because a fellow employee had taken issue with my outfit. While I very consciously dressed to not draw attention, I stayed true to my personality in the colors and styles I found confidence in.
HR assured me that I had done nothing wrong and that no rules were broken. They simply had to address the complaint. We both felt defeated in that moment. I cried.
I wish that I had the guts to stand up for us both back then, to feel empowered instead of embarrassed. I know now that this situation was a turning point for me. I learned that I had the power to influence as someone who stood out in my field not only due to performance but also how I chose to present myself as a woman. In a landscape where anything short of going unnoticed can be perceived as a threat, we can wield incredible power.
This attitude of authenticity and commitment to break the bias is one that I’m proud to help instill in my family. My husband is a stay-at-home dad who gets some interesting reactions when asked what he does for a living.
Stay-at-home moms don’t get these reactions.
I look at my two sons, both of whom wanted to play with baby dolls in strollers and toy kitchens with the same pride they’ve shown for school work and travel baseball. My eldest son has long, flowing ringlet curls and sometimes gets mistaken for my daughter. I once asked him if people’s assumptions bothered him; he just shrugged and said, “Mom, I like my hair. I don’t care.”
And why should he? His hair doesn’t define him.
It’s up to you to never lower yourself to meet the image expectations of others. Don’t apologize for being who you are. In this remote work environment, video calls have stripped down the faux wall people put up between their personal and professional lives. Now, it’s common during a meeting to have a dog barking in the background, or someone has to run and grab a package off of the porch. This reality is opening the door for more natural experiences with colleagues. As a result, greater mindsets about what’s okay in a workplace environment are therefore rapidly evolving.
Progress is being made, and I know so many others share my sentiments and acknowledge them in their own ways. The influence of younger generations to be more open-minded and blend work with non-work is changing how companies operate and advancing the opportunities for both men and women to show up as their most authentic selves in the workplace.
Don’t shrink yourself to fit into places you’ve outgrown. And don’t miss an opportunity worrying what others might think. Chances are, the only one holding you back is you.
On this International Women’s Day, the time has never been more right to unapologetically stay true to your authentic self – to help foster a realistic work/life balance – and to reach your greatest potential. #BreaktheBias