My initial reaction to his statement was entirely physical. My brows lifted, my eyes narrowed and my body twitched, simultaneously. At that moment, I did not care that he was a colleague or a senior manager at my firm. We both knew he needed to quickly follow up with an explanation. Senior leader or not, this conversation would not end well without it.
Allow me to set the stage. My colleague and I had just wrapped up a long planning session, on a Friday afternoon. I had been quiet in the meeting. In hindsight, I had been distracted much of the day. I was tired of the daily deluge of divisiveness online, my love had strep throat, and I was overwhelmed with a new project I had taken on. If I'm being completely honest, I was also frustrated that the new challenge I seek continues to elude me. I've made career rejuvenation a top priority in my life and have yet to see the fruits of my labor. The work does not change. Volumes increase, but not value.
With so many negative thoughts swirling in my head, it was difficult to engage as I normally would. I made a conscious effort to speak enough to mask my mood. Apparently, it did not work. After the meeting, my colleague asked to speak with me. He noticed my quietness and asked what was wrong. At first, I was cryptic in my response to him. But, as he probed further, my truth came out. Here's the abbreviated conversation:
Colleague - What's on your mind?
Me - I need to refocus my career. I need a role that uses my strengths and is valued. I can no longer afford to be stagnant.
Colleague - What do you want to do? What's your dream job?
Me - Publishing. Focusing on storytelling and editorial planning for digital channels.
Colleague - Why not work here in my division? We have a content marketing function and it will grow over time.
Me - To work in your division, you need technical writing skills and an understanding of the subject matter. I don't have that.
Colleague - Silence for a few seconds. Then says, "You sound like a stereotypical woman."
Now that you have the backstory, let's go back to the present. As my eyes narrowed in on his face, he continued:
"In one sentence you knocked yourself out of your dream job. I know you can flourish in the role, but you think you have to meet every requirement before you go for it. Want to know what I would have said?. I can do A, B, and C and will learn the rest. It's fascinating to see the differences in how men and women tout their skills. We have to change that. YOU have to change that."
I was stunned. To quote the cool kids, he schooled me. I'm a strong woman who will demand her equal place in this world. But, I had no idea I was taking myself out of the race before it even starts. I thanked my colleague for having the courage and compassion to tell the truth. It's a lesson I will not allow myself to forget.