I started writing this to a specific person after dealing with a situation I found difficult in my professional life. But looking back on it, I think the message in this letter was bigger than just this one situation, it is something I have wanted to say to other men I’ve encountered, and that other people might benefit from hearing, thinking about, and connecting with.
Dear Male Colleague,
I meant to say this yesterday: I wanted to say thank you. And I think I will be more eloquent in writing, rather than trying to say this all in person . . .
Thank you very much for helping me deal with this whole situation.
I was incredibly anxious about that meeting. I actually avoided eating most of the morning because I was so nervous I felt sick. Knowing that you supported me, and getting your advice, and also sort of having you challenge me to handle this, that I WAS capable, gave me the confidence to take control of the situation and to believe that although I probably wouldn’t handle it perfectly (if that’s even possible) I could figure out a way of doing it professionally and as gracefully as possible.
I honestly don’t think I would have addressed it as calmly, or even at all, without your help. More likely, I would have continued to silently and miserably simmering away until my head exploded!
I also want to point out that allowing me the space and safety to be ticked off and angry about things (and sometimes joining me in that!) was a part of this. It greatly helped me stop myself from falling into my default female programming of trying to be conciliatory at the expense of my own needs and beliefs, and of apologizing and shouldering responsibility for things that are not my fault. I constantly do this. This is something that I have been trying to unlearn, but too frequently I disappoint myself and do not succeed in this. It felt really good to finally break out of that programming, stand my ground, and stand up for myself— and prove to myself that I could actually do those things (and the world did not end)!
Expressing my dissatisfaction and expectations, upfront, without being completely crippled by a fear of a hurricane of blowback, blame, shame and guilt, is something that is a huge difficulty for me. Setting aside the specifics of the situation, handling the meeting and having it not result in some kind of catastrophic mess really felt like a huge personal victory. I seriously felt in some way like a new person professionally. Like I might actually be able to be a #bosslady someday in a way I’d never imagined I could before.
I know there is a lot of talk/research/evidence/experiences etc. about how men do not support or listen to women in numerous ways, especially professionally. But as much as I have experienced prejudice, disrespect, and harassment, I have worked with some men who have shown me another wonderful reality, and it’s something that I return to when I am feeling dejected about these things: that there ARE men who not only treat the women coworkers with respect and professionalism, but who are great supporters and advocates of them as well. You are one of those people for me.
So, thank you. I hope others learn from your example.