Presence and Blind Spots

by Kacey McFee, Predictive Analytics Analyst

I went into my second Womentorship session with a lot of excitement. Excitement to continue to learn from those around me. And I wasn’t disappointed. The topic for the session was Presence. How you can expand your presence in a room, along with some of the challenges you may face while trying to do so. I have to say, my eyes were opened, especially around the key discussion on gender blind spots. Gender blind spots, as presented by guest speaker and author, Delee Fromm , are essentially biases, stereotypes, and practices that occur today based upon an individuals’ gender. They tend to put women at a disadvantage in their careers. Delee explores this topic in her book (which was gifted to all of the Womentorship participants) “Understanding Gender at Work: How to use, lose, and expose blind spots for career success.”

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I have always known these exist. I have a degree in a male dominated field (engineering), almost everyone hears about the gender wage gap, and I have learned of many other disadvantages through my previous experience with Engineers Without Borders, an organization that focuses on equality. The difference however, is that I have been fortunate enough to be in a workplace where I haven’t personally experienced adversity as it relates to my gender. I have both women and men leaders that stand up for me and my team, fully support the work I do, promote growth and development in the direction I want to go, as well as acknowledge efforts and work well done. While I have had some challenging experiences as a result of gender, I don't feel there have been any major roadblocks as a result of them in my career.

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Through the sharing of experiences within the group, I realized how significant gender blind-spots still are. Which in all honesty, is disappointing. But I now know I have other women to lean on if I encounter these same problems so many others have endured before me.  This workshop highlighted situations where biases can occur and even situations in which our own biases affect us. But more importantly, it focused on skills and techniques to help combat these in the workplace and even life in general. 

Now to reduce a 4-hour session into a couple paragraphs, the following are some facts that stuck with me from the session:

  • Women do better negotiating for others rather than for themselves

  • Career advancement is a marathon, not a sprint

  • Women should feel empowered to talk about their accomplishments

  • The difference in habits learned by girls and boys from a very young age are often the initial source of many of career limiting biases women face.  Why do we compliment little girls on being pretty and boys on being strong?

  • As a leader it is important to develop a variety of leadership styles and to be able to use all of them

  • Overcoming gender blind spots is everyone’s responsibility

When I left the session, I was feeling a little discouraged.  The fact that tough, unnecessary challenges people face because of their gender is so prevalent, can drain you. On top of that, it is intimidating to know that because I am a woman, I have a higher chance of facing some of these same issues. But alongside the discouragement I still feel empowered. I now have tools to add to my toolbox and women, both inside and outside of my organization, to lean on if those challenges occur. If anything, I am now more prepared and know that I won’t let the experiences of those before me go to waste.