When will we stop apologizing already?!

The #MeToo movement set off a firestorm and blew the roof off of the entire gender diversity problem in both business and our world.

It infuriated a gender and highlighted the gross entitlement of so-called male leaders who used their power to manipulate and coerce women.

It further revealed how subjugated women felt in the workplace, regardless of the industry, and demonstrated the harassment women endured when having to prove their worth in an effort to get a job, keep a job, and move ahead.

Fast forward

Since the #MeToo conversation started, we’ve had Time’s Up come to the table and talk about zero tolerance and the need for change.

And while we’ve made strides as a society, we haven’t come as far as we had hoped. Sure, we’ve started to evolve. Women are much more vigilant when it comes to personal boundaries and what’s tolerable in regards to how we’re treated in the workplace.

But I ask you, why do we continue to feel inferior to the opposite sex? Why do we still feel the need to ask for permission and receive acceptance? Why can’t we stand up for our convictions freely and intelligently, and know that what we bring to the table is of value and contribution?

And so, the conversation continues…

Recently, I attended a seminar where a panel of five women was speaking on female empowerment within their industry of sales.

Based on the description in the glossy brochure, the one-hour talk was to feature strong women who had climbed the corporate ladder successfully on their own merits. The panel consisted of a group of women who created a support group that engendered strength and motivation.

I was so eager to hear them speak that I was one of the first to arrive. I wanted to hear about their triumphs. I wanted to hear how they ran up the glass escalator without feeling held back by societal norms or biases. I wanted to hear how they had worked together to support one another and empower each other to succeed. I wanted to hear how they had won.

After the panel introductions were made and the pleasantries out of the way, the discussion quickly deteriorated into the depths of how victimized the women felt in their industry and the discriminating treatment they had received from men, both in their own workplace and by clients.

We teach others how to treat us

Each woman on the panel took her turn and described the harassment she had experienced in varying degrees, from an inappropriate comment by a client about how she changed her shoes, to another being asked out on a date.

When each spoke, she cowered in her chair as if she were apologizing for being female. One woman, in particular, laughed off a derogatory comment made by a client and referred to herself as “new meat on the block.” Her self-proclaimed label further diminishes her position in the corporate world and subjects her to derogatory comments in the future because she feels like she deserves them.

Another woman mentioned the inappropriate, sexually explicit comments she endured in an effort to keep a client. She was afraid to tell anyone about the comments for fear of losing the client and of being blacklisted in the industry.

I slouched in my chair frustrated by the topic of conversation.

Rather than speak up to the indiscretions, each woman tolerated how they were treated. They accepted the behavior, which silently told the person delivering the indiscretion that it was acceptable.

Where is your self-respect, ladies?

We teach others how to treat us by our choices and our tolerance for unacceptable behavior. And while I understand that it can be difficult to stand up for your convictions when you feel threatened for your job or your safety, you have to be brave enough to draw the line.

Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve been subjected to inappropriate comments and behavior in the workplace, in life, and on social media. Last year, I was at a company event when a client, whom I didn’t know, grabbed me aggressively and held me in an effort to prevent me from leaving. While I was fighting to release his hold of me, three of my colleagues freed me from his grip. It was frightening and aggravating.

Many of us can draw from experience and it’s how we choose to react to those instances that make the difference in how we are perceived as individuals and treated in society.

Stop apologizing already!

The panel conversation continued and veered into the land of setting boundaries. “See something, say something” was the underlying tone, with the hint of, “But don’t piss anyone off.” And, while you’re at it, “Find a male mentor who will walk you up the glass elevator and save your career… find your Prince Charming.”

The women on the panel had consumed more than 30 precious minutes of their 60 talking about how mistreated they felt. They questioned the audience in an effort to receive acceptance for their actions or lack thereof.

As a gender, we continue to apologize for being women. We feel that we need to prove ourselves because we don’t feel like our acumen and merit are enough for us to move ahead. We feel like our lot in life is to accept the inexcusable comments and advances in an effort to maintain a role. It’s exhausting and intolerable on every level.

One woman on the panel questioned whether it was appropriate to hug a client. She asked the panel and the audience whether she should initiate the hug or wait for the “man in the room” to initiate the hug. I wasn’t sure whether I was listening to a talk on empowerment or attending a support group. I left the room in an effort to save my sanity.

Why is it that we cannot believe in ourselves enough to know that our intellect will carry us to our own successes?

I’ve been there too. Many times, in my career, I’ve been told that I’m too strong — one male manager asked me to “hug my direct reports” in an effort to make everyone happy. “Be soft, gentle,” he said. I’m not even sure what he meant by those comments, I just know they were punctuated with biases and discrimination.

And studies have shown that women in business are perceived as nurturing and kind — not as natural leaders, while men are perceived as strong and natural leaders.

As a gender, if we continue to ask for permission, continue to ask for approval, we will continue to perpetuate the behavior the #MeToo movement is working to change, and we will fail to grow overall.

Be the change

The #MeToo movement is monumental for women. It started a conversation that had been unspoken for too long. However, the conversation shouldn’t be in vain.

Let’s use that conversation as our platform to make changes and advancements in how we live our lives and how we succeed in business.

We are the change and we need to evolve and flourish through collaboration and cohesiveness. It is up to us to use our knowledge and move the needle forward by demonstrating our independence — not by asking permission or waiting for approval.

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