Silicon Valley Tech Executive Sherry Lowe Turns a Negative Term on Its Head and Explores How Women Can Embrace the Inner Strength to Succeed
On today's political campaign trail, we see a lack of civility playing out among candidates from both parties. Watching the recent debates, town halls and interviews shows a stage full of heated banter and a seeming lack of manners on all sides.
While the political stage presents the extreme, this type of climate seems to be increasingly spilling over into the workplace, where a certain level of brazenness has become more acceptable and, in many ways, required to be heard. So how do women fare in this increasingly "say-anything-you-please" environment, where politeness frequently takes a back seat to a more "in-your-face" communications style?
As a woman in business, often times voicing your opinion leads others to accuse you of being aggressive. But if you can't step up without being inaccurately judged, how do you inspire and lead? Ultimately, is being "half a bitch" not half bad to succeed in an increasingly competitive world and workplace?
Taking it back to the political stage, Hillary Clinton seems to often be graded on a different scale than her male counterparts. We've heard she doesn't connect or her working style is too aggressive, and she struggles with support from both men and women alike as a result. Or look at Carly Fiorina, who you rarely hear about without mention of her business missteps, while Donald Trump seems to get more of a pass for many of his business failures.
The criticisms of Hillary in particular are what many women who have navigated the workforce have heard time and again -- we're too pushy, too aggressive or made to feel guilty for requesting a better salary or promotion. Some might even be reminded just how lucky they are to have made it this far.
Whatever your political stance may be, witnessing the conundrum of women running for office got me thinking about the unique challenges women face in male-dominated work environments as well. While we've started to see progress -- Facebook and Microsoft, for example, recently disclosed they pay male and female employees equally while Salesforce is spending $3 million to fix the gap -- we still have a ways to go on how women's actions are judged and defined.
Defining and Striking the "Half a Bitch" Balance
While the term "bitch" is generally defined as a malicious or difficult woman, too often it's tossed around to describe any woman who is stepping up or showing leadership qualities that aren't necessarily negative. It's time for this to change. Similar to how the LGBTQ community has embraced "queer," we need to own and re-define the label in a positive way as an empowered, uncompromising woman leader.
Women today need to be "half a bitch" to succeed. This doesn't give you a free pass to be rude or disrespectful, but it is about a mindset of empowerment, confidence and honing a certain inner strength that keeps you from sitting on your hands with your mouth shut. Often, remaining silent proliferates problems -- it does not solve them.
In challenging environments, it's not always effective to stand down or take the high road, regardless of how you're perceived. For women leaders, questioning a colleague might be viewed as uncooperative, while men are seen as simply asking great questions. Or saying no to a project that's wrong for the business can earn you a reputation as a "no" person, while men may be viewed as making strategic decisions about prioritization.
When you find yourself in these situations, my best empowerment tip is to not fear criticism or opposition. Instead, focus on owning your unique qualities and skills, and use that strength to guide you. If the opposition isn't hearing you, the trick is to embrace your inner "half a bitch" and focus on clear, direct and concise communications without apology.
Above all, it is about achieving balance -- choosing your battles wisely, weighing kindness with assertiveness and knowing when to speak your mind, and when to let things go. A motto I've lived by for 15 years in Silicon Valley is that if 99 percent of the time you're doing what's right for the company, you'll make the right decision. If that requires having the confidence to take a stance and take charge, then own being half a bitch and use it to everyone's advantage.
While others go so far as to claim being actually aggressive or unfriendly is a good idea, this behavior does not nurture a healthy workplace. By striking the balance, we can maintain our manners, spread both fearlessness and positivity and, best of all, accomplish great work together.
In an increasingly ambitious environment, it can be particularly challenging for women, however it also provides an opportunity to be more honest, upfront and assertive. Women today more than ever have a chance to rise up and stand out alongside their peers. For these strong women, being called a "bitch" should not be a bad thing if you're merely being decisive and doing what's right for the company and everyone in it.
Men, too, have an opportunity to stand alongside women and be part of the solution. We are seeing many examples of this emerge -- in Hollywood, men have started speaking up about the pay gap, and in the technology world a number of men are making waves to help level the playing field. Diversity improves every workplace, and men taking steps to be conscious of the odds and back female colleagues goes a long way.
As women, we must also join together and empower each other, not work against each other out of competition. Looking at the criticism of Hillary, in many cases women seem to be her -- and often each other's -- harshest critics. It is critical that women instead lift each other up and promote each other's success. There's "half a bitch" in all of us, and it's something we can harness and celebrate together.