League of Extraordinary Women – Getting comfy with the uncomfy questions

Posted By JemmaWong On 13 February 2017

I work for a large sports organisation in marketing and brand development.

I love my work, I’m nourished by it and I’m proud of my portfolio. Yet when I meet someone new and I mention where I work, one of the first questions I tend to get asked is, ‘but…(cue hesitation)…do you even like sport?’ (Generally followed by a raised eyebrow).

Shock, horror, meltdown, that someone like me could not only like sport, but work in sport and be a champion of a code that is predominantly male. When this would happen I used to feel I had to justify my existence, qualify and quantify my talents, recount the awards I’ve received and explain myself in a 30 second exchange. And as I was listing my achievements at the speed of Rory Gilmore, I used to wonder if my male colleagues were asked the same question.

Women have been justifying their place in leadership positions and workplaces for decades – read Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders’. Partly it’s because women can underestimate their contribution and abilities or talk themselves out of opportunities (guilty of this one a few times), but it’s also because structures and language are in play to question their role before they even step into it. The more we justify, the more we second-guess ourselves, and the more we feel like we’re moving through quicksand.

When we’re working in a field dominated by men, or in a business world that is subject to ‘group think’, we can find ourselves caught up in bigger world assumptions and normalising ideas of what a sports leader or a tech entrepreneur or an engineer should look and sound like – “You don’t look like a business owner” or “I wouldn’t have imagined you’d be into footy?” (“insert more assumptions of what women in work should be doing!)”

It’s Ok. Stay chill, shake it off and be the bigger human.

Use that question or that 30-second opportunity to make a dent in the world, and change the way they see it.

Get curious about the question, disarm them and throw it back out there. Don’t be afraid to give an answer they’re not expecting – hey, at least you’ll be memorable.

Now when I’m asked that question and an eyebrow is raised in my direction, I stop myself from quoting Hilary or Germaine and instead I smile, breathe, and let them know that it’s because of such questions, that I’ve chosen to be in this field, to help open up conversations and provide a diverse outlook for the industry. And the best part in me owning 100% of me and dishing out some #truth? It usually starts the most interesting conversations – conversations, which I hope continue when the other person returns home or to their workplace.

That’s the sweet part about change. It only happens if people are willing to stand out, own their awesome and hold their ground.

Jemma xx

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