The Role for Women [and Men] in the Workplace

By Tobi DeVito

Gender bias is everywhere. In the entertainment industry. In the advertising industry. In the technology industry. In the [you name it, it’s got its shit] industry. It’s consuming and arresting.

But over the past several months, things have started to change. The long-simmering “women’s movement” has gained new momentum from a series of very personal efforts to end the bias against women in the workplace. Women in Hollywood are taking back the narrative with #timesup. Women in the advertising industry are forcing the conversation by calling out offenders on @dietmadisonave. Susan Fowler roundhouse kicked open the steel door to cast a gaze at the often loathsome, uninviting-to-the-femalekind technology industry. Really, really brave women (inspired by women of color) are grabbing their guts by the cahungas and taking to social media to own their story with #metoo.

The reclamation of the personal as political is a throwback to Second-wave feminism that this 1990’s women’s studies minor has been waiting for years to resurface (along with flannel and more Ace of Base). And, as a woman who’s jamming along in a 20ish-year career in and around tech, I’ve had the pleasure of learning a thing or two from some amazing female and male mentors and peers, all of whom own the title of feminist[1].  

Thus, as Women’s History month comes to a close, I’m making my personal story political.

The following are the top three ways I choose to define my role as a woman in the workplace, and still be [pretty f-ing] proud of myself in the morning [2]:

#1 Stop accepting apologies from any woman that didn’t make a mistake.
I am a huge fan of owning my mistakes. I tell my nine-year-old daughter on repeat that one of the best ways to learn is through error. When a woman gives herself room to fail, she is giving herself room to take risks—the kind that change opinions, transform industries, and inspire other women to do the same.

But because women are so much more likely to own our own mistakes, something else tends to happen: We own others’ mistakes as well. A few weeks ago, a kick-ass female product manager on my team apologized to me for not creating specific documentation on a project. Not only was it not her job to create the document, it wasn’t even her job to ask that the documentation be created! I refused to accept the apology, and so should you.

#2 Don’t be a hater.
Many years ago, I began working at a media company. The head of accounts (also a woman, by the way) thought a “great way” to test my skills was to have me manage a woman one year my senior whom they had just passed up promotingso they could hire me. (This whole sentence just made me throw up in my mouth a little.) The company basically created a catfight… on purpose. My new colleague and I are both fiery Italians, so for about three months, we both bit. It was ugly—the backstabbing, the work sabotage, the pure meanness. But, as I said, we are both fiery Italians. So, at month four, we both realized that we could use our shared passion to succeed, thirst to learn, and love of collaboration for good. After that, we killed it together… and continue to years later. While we are now both in different careers, I still consider her a go-to for advice, an ear, or a shared pitcher of sangria.

Women can be so hard on themselves, which can make it super easy to also be hard on each other just to get ahead. But if we don’t stand up for each other, no one else will. Sure, there are tons of women whose professional style I don’t care for. But I try really hard not to get in their way personally.

#3 Invite women to the table.
I was not lucky enough to have a parent or family friend to open employment-related doors for me right out of college. Yet I was still very lucky: After landing that very first gig with nothing but good interview skills and a slim resume full of volunteer stints, I found women and men who saw my potential, and made room for my [at times frenetic, but always honest] chutzpah.

Just last week, two male Executive Creative Directors whom I work with often threw my name into the ring for a new opportunity. Although I wasn’t in leadership’s line of sight for the role, those two went on a limb and put me there, making it known they thought I was the right one for the job.  

Women, particularly newer, younger women in the workforce, can struggle to find room to show their true abilities. Instead, their louder, chummier, bro-ier male counterparts may own the limelight much of the time.

You can be part of the solution. Ask her to co-write that thought leadership piece your CMO requested from you, invite her to the new secret project you are spearheading, put her name forward for unique opportunities you find out about, or ask that she be included in initiatives you know she’d be perfect for.

There will always be specific, unique moments where we’re focused on empowering women to rip open a can of whoop-ass at work.

Women’s History month might be over, but every single day, women and men can and should help erase the bias against women in workplace. We can intentionally choose to take daily interactions and make ongoing choices that even the playing field.

At some point, the $.20 owed on the dollar for doing the same job as their male counterpart will show up in the paychecks of ladies across the country. And when it does, March can just be called [_______] History month, and resume its rightful place in our minds and hearts: as that slushy third month of the year we can’t wait to slog through.

[1]  Carol Gipson was the first person to take a professional chance on me backing 1998. She saw a light in me that I now see and try to nurture in so many young women entering the workplace today. She also showed me what liking yourself looks like.

[2] So many amazing lists existing with similar sentiments. My top two these days are: 1) 100 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Drive the 3% Number Upward published by The 3% movement is a great one for my agency friends and 2) Feminist Fight Club was a killer resource for women and men alike looking to kick womanizers in the nuts.

[3] Have I mentioned my nine-year-old daughter is also Star Wars-obsessed?

[4] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-159.html

___

As Director, Technology and Product Management Tobi’s career has spanned a variety of disciplines and industries—from leading digital product teams for Fortune 100 clients and executing multi-million dollar media campaigns for leading e-comm retailers, to building CRM databases for national non-profits. At VSA, Tobi delivers bleeding-edge digital experiences for IBM, leveraging Watson and other IBM Cloud and cognitive technologies. Through her broad experience, Tobi has developed the critical skill of nurturing, motivating and empowering teams. In unifying internal and external stakeholders with clearly defined product vision, requirements and purpose, her teams have consistently delivered differentiated, user-centered products across varied platforms, services and tech stacks. Tobi is a Certified Scrum Product Owner and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from University of Puget Sound and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from New York University.

Tobi can be contacted at tdevito@vsapartners.com