Whether it is race, age, gender, or sexual orientation, I am sure we have all experienced being an “only” in the room at one point or another. Being an “only” can be extremely anxiety-inducing or simply feeling icky. Considering we spend 40+ hours each week in the workplace, it makes sense to want to feel at least a small sense of belonging when you’re there. Although I could spend years gathering opinions and experiences from an assortment of “only” circumstances, today we are going to focus exclusively on being the “only” businesswoman in the room.
Research shows that companies with a diverse workplace perform better and are more productive. Varying experiences, backgrounds, or cultures allow for ideas that may have otherwise never existed to ignite! However, research also shows that when you are an “only,” you are held to higher standards. Whether these higher standards are intentional or not, the question remains…what should we do about it?
Embrace similarities, not differences: I’m sure if you sat down with anyone in the world and started talking, you would find more similarities than differences. Remind yourself of some of the similarities you share with others in the room. Maybe even make a mental list for yourself. This may put your mind at ease or even challenge you to seek similarities through conversation with your co-workers.
Find people like you: I work in a highly male-dominated field. There are plenty of women in various roles throughout the offices in Utah, but it is rare to connect with the women in other offices. My company decided to start a women’s group where we connect virtually monthly. These meetings create a sense of comradery and sisterhood after each of our meetings.
Identify allies: Although you may not share the same gender, there are certainly allies out there who want to see YOU succeed. Identify who these individuals are in your workplace and potentially cultivate a sponsor for yourself – someone who will speak up for you if your voice is being suppressed.
Don’t be afraid to say no and speak up: I am challenging myself in 2022 to practice saying “no.” For example, just because there is no one else in the room to take notes during a meeting, it doesn’t mean that YOU need to be the one who is chosen to take notes. There is no need to be defensive or rude about it. We are all professional adults and can say no in a respectful manner, or simply question the reasoning of the request. Confidence can be felt and seen. Use eye contact, speak slowly and clearly, keep your shoulders back and spine straight. If you are going into a difficult meeting, strike the “Super-Hero Pose” (Stand up, place your fists on your hips, spread your legs, lift your chest and gaze slightly to the heavens) for a few minutes before it starts. You may be surprised by how you feel.
Be yourself and strive for excellence: There is no need to alter who you are to conform to how media typically portrays a strong businesswoman in the movies. There is a reason why you got this far in the business world, and staying true to yourself will only benefit you and the company. As mentioned earlier, you will automatically be held to a higher standard, so instead of being anxious or feeling icky, always strive for excellence in everything you do.
When it really comes down to it, most everyone in your company is working toward the same goal. Even so, not everyone is going to be in your corner, and you may still experience bias in the workplace. Should we try to change their minds? Or just accept the fact that they are most likely never going to change and be grateful that there are people out there to remind us of who we DON’T want to be? At the end of the day, always know you are not alone, even if you are an “only.”
About Jennifer Goodwin
Jennifer Goodwin graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. As Recruiting Operations Specialist at the SLC Downtown Northwestern Mutual Office, Jennifer utilizes her creativity and genuine desire to serve others to help grow the firm. She thrives on creating strategies and efficiencies in order to coordinate continuity throughout all Northwestern Mutual offices in the state of Utah. Jennifer is a fervent advocate of social responsibility and of women uplifting each other and strives daily to integrate these values into the workplace. She has a natural curiosity for life and a desire to do and know everything, which allows her to relish in many hobbies. Outside of work you can find Jennifer rocking out at a concert, in the audience of a Broadway Musical, fishing, reading, listening to true crime podcasts, playing her guitar, bowling, gardening or singing.