Do you frequently travel alone? If so, you’ve probably had any number of “single-serving” conversations with the person next to you on the plane. It’s what people do when we can’t manage to avoid eye contact effectively. Sometimes those conversations are a wonderful surprise. On my way to Charlotte, for example, the gentleman in the next seat asked about my CPCU Society tote bag. I learned that he is a data and analytics executive and added him to my LinkedIn network the moment we landed. Maybe helped a friend get his next job. This is why I’m on the planet. Shiny!
On the return trip, I was in the middle seat. A woman with her adorable baby sat in the aisle seat. The gentleman to my left (we’ll call him Window Seat) was starting to doze before the cabin door was even closed. Behind on my homework, I reached for the ridiculously heavy textbook in my carry-on tote bag. I expected to be asleep by paragraph four.
About three minutes in, Window Seat asked why I was reading an accounting textbook. “Economics,” I corrected. He informed me that marginal cost and marginal revenue (Miller, pages 536-537) are accounting concepts. Okay, but it’s an economics textbook. Says so right on the cover. I didn’t argue, because what’s the point.
He seemed to be looking for a conversation, so I explained that I’m pursuing my MBA to complement my IT background. He asked how I liked Econ. I said it’s interesting conceptually but the textbook puts me to sleep. We talked awhile longer.
What he learned about me as we talked:
- I have two bachelors degrees, one of which is in computer science
- I manage global IT projects at a Fortune 100 company
- I was on my way home from a conference where I had spoken to higher education professionals about diversity and inclusive networking
- I have a passion for leadership development and have launched my own company
- I’m early in my MBA program and preferred the Finance class to the Economics course
I learned similar tidbits about his professional background and the nature of his business trip. It turns out Window Seat is the Chief Financial Officer of a technology startup. And not a very good listener.
And Then It Happened…
It was after all of this that he suggested, “You might understand economics better if when the book says oil and gas, you think in terms of purses and shoes.”
I said “or I could think in terms of oil and gas.”
Why Is This Still Happening?
This is the same kind of nonsense I dealt with 20 years ago when I got my Computer Science degree. I knew then it was because I was a woman, but figured my youth also played in. It’s easy to want to give advice to young people. Now that I’m older, I catch myself doing it all the time. (I’ll work on that.) I’m in my 40s, for crying out loud. (See? Young people don’t say “for crying out loud” yet.) When do I finally get to be taken seriously based on the fact that I am a hard-working, experienced professional?
Window Seat is some company’s CFO. How does he talk to the women in his department? What assumptions is he making about them? How long will they stay? Does he know why they all probably hate working for him?
Men, stop assuming women are superficial know-nothings who can’t process complex information. In addition to our lady-parts, we also possess education, experience, knowledge, and valuable skills.
If you are a leader in your company, realize that microaggressions hurt the productivity, engagement, and longevity of your workforce. Not because women and people of color and other non-straightwhiteablebodiedmale employees are less educated (we aren’t) or less qualified (we aren’t). But because we are tired of your inability to see us as intellectual and professional equals. You may think we don’t “deserve” to be there with you, and you’re right! We deserve much, much better.
Author’s note: This article was adapted from my book Network Beyond Bias: Making Diversity a Competitive Advantage for Your Career.