Aspiring Women For Excellence

  • November Meeting Recap

Article by Francesca Feng

On November 3rd, AWE held their fifth meeting at L One restaurant. The aim of this session was to investigate whether it was possible to be both feminine and successful. The meeting was well attended with members from a variety of backgrounds present. The ladies present included women working in state media, government offices, business and medicine from seven different countries.
After each member had introduced themselves to the group Dr. Marcella Festa (North-West University) opened the session and framed the discussion. She asked the group if they felt it was necessary to be ‘butch’ in the manner of several prominent female politicians (Merkel, Sturgeon, Clinton) in order to succeed in the world. She felt from her own experience that she was often not taken seriously in her position when she turned up to conferences and meetings dressed in feminine formal clothes. This opinion was then affirmed by another academic who stated that she felt she always had to ‘be the biggest man in the room’ in order to be taken seriously and that this extended beyond just clothes and appearance. She bemoaned the fact that even though she does not drink alcohol socially, it was often necessary to drink at work in order to not be dismissed by her colleagues as ‘just another woman’. Another participant noted that her husband did not drink and that it did not affect is ability to work. It was noted that this was a situation in which a woman was required to ‘prove’ herself, whereas a man would already be accepted.
The discussion briefly moved into a discussion of sexual harassment and the fact that several women present at the table had experienced harassment at work and that this had then led to their changing their clothing in order to avoid such attention in the future. It was agreed that although this was an incredible important topic, it would be better served by being the focus of a future meeting.
The idea was then raised that dressing in a feminine manner led to colleagues (both male and female) focusing on the appearance of an individual rather than their work of capability. One attendee who worked in media noted that having worked as the main liaison to facilitate co-operation between two media companies she then found herself sidelined by her manager who started to treat her as an administrative assistant rather than as the liaison. She eventually quit the job since she was unwilling (at the time) to confront her manager about his treatment of her. This was found to be a common theme with other women present relating various situations in which they had not been given appropriate recognition for their role in acquisitions, mergers and the like.
It was noted by three of the participants that they had been raised in environments in which they were not encouraged to think of themselves as ‘female’ and were required to muck-in on the same level as the men and boys within their community, in each case memories of collecting and chopping firewood were raised. That cultural background was a significant factor in the extent to which a woman was able to be feminine in the workplace without it impacting upon her work was generally agreed upon.
The concept that it was necessary to be rude and unpleasant in order to be taken seriously within the work place was raised. One participant raised the idea that actually it was only through being more ‘masculine’ in terms of the way in which they interacted with individuals that women could succeed in the present work place, that confidence was the characteristic which led to success. It was eventually agreed that being feminine in the work place often led to a variety of problems but that it was important to always to stay true to yourself. It was noted that there are times in which it was necessary to put on a mask, but that it was essential that this was a conscious choice made in order to achieve a set goal.

Francesca is AWE secretary. In her free time, she does winter swimming and enjoys exploring beautiful Xi’an.