Women’s Conversations: Lifting Up What We Face, What We Know, & What We Can Change

“what would happen if one woman
told the truth about her life? The world
would split open.” 

– Muriel Rukeyser

As I was driving out to the barn this summer, I caught a song on the radio called Redesigning Women by a new supergroup called The Highwomen. It was catchy, smart, and the closer I listened, the more the lyrics rattled around in me. I loved what they were offering and their point of view. Meanwhile back at the office, my colleague Heather Jassey said to me, “I want to do something for women entrepreneurs.” Her statement of desire sparked what I was sensing as a growing urge in me as well: we need to make more room for the voice of women and include more of that specifically in the larger conversation we have a Reboot. “Let’s do a series of podcast conversations,” I offered, “Let’s do it for the wombs in the room and all that they carry.” 

So, we are striding out with some fresh voices on our podcast channel via monthly collaborative conversation with Reboot’s coaches who identify as women on the realities of ‘women and work and life.’ 

Over the years, we’ve heard a lot from the women that come to us as clients. We know that the struggle is real, too, from our own life and work stories. What we’ve heard and know to be true from the experiences of women who have been our clients, our friends, and at times, our selves are, well, very real. 

  • Women are critiqued on their communication, specifically their tone and presentation style, instead of the data, business plan, and content of their contribution. 
  • Female CEOs have experienced male investors coming on to them mid-fundraising. 
  • Female CEOs will have to provide 10x the info/proof/metrics/etc. to raise money (while others can get by with a few examples and raise uber sufficient funds). 
  • Women are often given raises or promotions based on past accomplishments, while men are often given raises or promotions based on potential.
  • Women tend to feel like they need more certifications before they go do something. They often feel underqualified. (This shows up when we hang on the sidelines, often waiting until we feel qualified enough (and sometimes that day never comes!). While we’re waiting, we’re not taking risks, not speaking in meetings, not touting our successes, not asking for the juicy role.)
  • Women tend to worry more about their “likeability”. They worry about being a bitch. They then worry about their leadership and how to lead effectively without being aggressive. There’s a much smaller acceptable range of emotion tolerated in women in the workplace. We’ve had clients tell us, “I have to choose between making myself small so that I don’t piss off my peers, or do my best work and have everyone hate me.” 

As Heather reminds us: “Most if not all leaders have imposter syndrome—the fear that they will be exposed as fraudulent or that they don’t know what they are doing. For white men, this is mostly a process of coming to terms with the fact that this is about facing their own demons and fears; that what they fear is not what’s actually happening. But for women and people of color, there’s not only imposter syndrome but also this: it’s not in your head. Often you are being judged on tone, presentation, and style points, instead of the substance of your work. So there’s a double layer of stuff happening for white women, and for women of color, a triple layer.”

Women worry about being taken seriously if they want to start a family AND a company. Having a family brings up all sorts of things…

  • Mothers have “Mom Guilt,” feeling torn between work and their family.
  • Some women consider freezing their eggs while they are on a startup salary.
  • There’s a shift in identity when one becomes a mother, what does that mean for her woman-at-work identity? 

Something happens when you have a baby: it just breaks you wide open, and not just from your loins. Your heart is so open, and you’re so vulnerable. The act of context shifting between that vulnerability and how one has to show up and “be strong” at work can be exhausting and overwhelming. And then, there’s also the enormous mountain of minutiae to manage in addition to the actual caregiving of children on top of one’s own at-work-workload. 

Women experience a different brand of loneliness and often are cited as wanting more strong women role models. The few bullets we’ve itemized above are intense enough. When you feel like you’re the only person experiencing all of this, you can feel so lonely. It is like being gaslit. It can cause anyone to question their own sanity or read of the situation. 

A woman can let self-care slip as she takes care of everything else, but a commitment to self-care is the real fuel in her tank. We are often better at caring for others than for ourselves, which can show up in the workplace as women who support and mentor others, or take care of everyone else’s emotional needs but not her own.

Another phenomenon that we see is “Crabs in a Bucket”, in which women can get together and pull each other down. This is a rough thing to witness because we really need each other. As author Amy Charlotte Kean notes in her book, The Little Girl Who Gave Zero F^cks, “In a bucket of crabs, when one tries to climb out, The rest pull their legs back with no shred of doubt. […] Because crabs don’t fancy their friends being brave.”

We find so many of these data points shocking to the heart and sad-making. Is this bumming you out, too? In some ways, seeing these points all together looks like the threads of a conspiracy theory to keep women from knowing their own power. I hear Taylor Swift’s song The Man echoing in my head: 

When everyone believes ya
What’s that like?
I’m so sick of running
As fast as I can
Wondering if I’d get there quicker
If I was a man
And I’m so sick of them
Coming at me again
‘Cause if I was a man
Then I’d be the man

In the forthcoming episodes, we’ll land and expand on many of these topics and flesh out the dimensions of these very real issues. And, we’ll hopefully add to the vision of how we can support each other as an alternative (and healthier) model for women. Gail Evans, the author of She Wins, You Win, notes that “Every time a woman succeeds in business, every other woman’s chance of succeeding in business increases. Every time a woman fails in business, every other woman’s chance of failure increases.”

Imagine that.

We also know that even though the in-equities we face are real, how we internalize those situations and the larger message around who are are supposed to be determines what we make of ourselves and the ripples we make. So, we wonder collectively, but mostly in the inner spaces our of hearts: How can we be all of who we are in the world? What does a more integrated model look like? How can we be with and for each other in supportive ways?

We know the inner revolution starts deep within. Our individual commitment to the work, this work, serves the collective–and everyone in our lives. But as Rosie the Riveter reminds us: We can do this! Perhaps our era calls for “Rosie the Riveter with Renovations” as The Highwomen sing in Redesigning Women. While we’re “making bank, shakin’ hands, driving 80, trying to get home just to feed the baby,” this Rosie also rolls up her sleeves for the inner work required, on some level, in each of us. She’d ask us to shovel through the BS and the layers that keep us from being strong and unwavering in ourselves. She beckons us to:

  • Know our worth and heal the wounds that make us believe we’re not enough. 
  • Take up space and own our right to be here, because we do not need permission. 
  • Be all of you and be A-Ok being all of that much
  • Forge our own path through the world and not playing a role in how we think powerful women are supposed to act or be. 
  • Know our inner voice, our instincts, our intuition. Listen to these so much that that voice becomes a lot louder than all the noise from the outside world. 
  • Know and honor our boundaries. 
  • Dedicate attention for self-care. Create the space that we need to be in our inner world, where we have space to imagine and dream and invent and be in our wildness separate from the world’s expectations of us. Protect this space fiercely; it is the space from which big things happen.
  • Accept that fear and imposter syndrome are parts of being human—and exacerbated by being a woman in this world. Proceed despite the fear. The work is not about waiting, the work is about feeling the fear, noticing it, saying “thank you very much very-credible-but-jerky-voice-telling-me-why-I-have-to-wait.”

We hope to include more pieces of the human experience as we lift up what we face, what we know and what we can change. We’ll go broad and deep on a bosom full of topics that can weigh on a woman’s heart. And, we’ll find solidarity as we weave insight from a range of well-hewn threads of wisdom—our own experience as women–in the workplace, as coaches, as mothers, as healers. 

My colleagues and I aim to lift up the conversation, be savvy and soulful and include and reclaim all the parts of us in the process (the wounded parts, the fed-up parts, the struggle-is-real parts, the desire parts, the wild parts, and the parts that are becoming). We want to support the revolution in the mind-heart-gut-womb (I say that because I believe women have four brain-centers that guide us). That inner revolution serves us all.

We hope you enjoy this series of conversations with my esteemed colleagues from a different point of view.