Femininity and the Workplace
In episode 39 of the MentorZ podcast, Tima Elhajj, a coach, mentor, and international speaker talks about how she embraced her femininity in a male-dominated industry.
When it comes to being a woman, we have a variety of contradictory messages on what it means to be feminine. The identities are ever fluid and the stereotypes succeed and shallow us as an individual.
"We have so many mixed messages around what a woman should be like, and what makes a powerful woman, or what makes an influential woman, or what makes a sexy woman."
Tima experienced this clash of what she thought would be an appropriate identity as a young woman while she pursued a full-time career during college in financial planning. Unfortunately, she had no female mentors or higher-ups willing to help her and had to make it up for herself on how she needed to navigate her new environment.
"When I first started working corporate... women were not very nice to me and the ones that were supportive were the men ... it was such a boy's club. And the ones that had power, the ones that had influence, were men. And furthering into my career, I realized more and more that there were not many influential women around me. But the ones that did have some kind of important role or position in the banks that I working at, they didn't want to be around me and they were not willing to help. So in my mind early on in my career, I thought I had to be like a man"
To Tima, this would mean she would need to hide her long hair, dress like a man, and hide the fact she enjoyed makeup and feeling beautiful.
"I didn't want them to realize how feminine I was"
"At least if I can look like that maybe I can somehow gain people's respect"
And during this time of her self-imposed suppression, she no longer felt like herself. Tima was lost in this process and led to losing her confidence, as she didn't really know how to navigate through the corporate world.
So she made a change to herself
One day, she decided to instead come to work dressed up. She knew that looking nice and feeling beautiful would allow her to feel more powerful.
"And so I realized these are all tools that can help me become this powerful, influential businesswoman that I want to become. So if it meant putting my hair down and doing my hair; if it meant doing my makeup; if it meant, you know, nail polish, wearing red nail polish to work; if it meant wearing something a little more fitted or something that's not necessarily, say, corporate attire... I'm gonna wear it! And it is not about sexualizing myself, it's not about wanting to get the wrong attention, it was like, this is what I feel good in and I'm gonna use it."
This small change of embracing who she truly was had massive internal and external results.
"My confidence flipped and my conversations with my clients turned around, I was getting deals, more deals, bigger deals. I was getting a lot more respect from my peers because I was just standing in my own power."
However, there still was an underlying problem. Other women in Tima's company that still embraced the 'act like a man' mentality were not so supportive of her new style and her new confidence. Passive-aggressive comments and subtle jabs became a new obstacle that she needed to overcome. Watching all of this in her beginning years, she began to understand the value of giving to support toward all women. This only heightened as she was able to find her own tribe.
"And I just think it's important that women support each other, and it was just really, really heartbreaking to see that women were just not like that, and the only time honestly that I had real support from females was when I went onto the Linked in platform. It was just so incredible... that was when I started to build real friendships with other females."
Women Supporting Each Other
As young women, many have felt the pressures to conform to a male-dominated environment, especially when it comes to the business realm or higher positions of power. While the fight for femininity to be seen as an acceptable perspective fights on, there seems to be an underlying sabotage that we, as women have done to other women.
"And it's not a weakness to be feminine, and I think we get that message as we grow up. You have to speak a certain way, you can’t say certain things, being feminine is just as powerful, if not more, than it is to be masculine. And we just have different qualities, and we don't, it's not natural for us to be masculine... we are just not built that way, and you don't see men wanting to be feminine... why do we always have to change, why does it always have to be us. I just don't understand that, and being feminine is a powerful thing and it’s not about being weak at all, I just want to stress that point because again I feel like subliminally for some reason were, that's the message that we hear is that if you are feminine, if you are a female, that that's not a strong thing. And I don't know if that comes from men or if it comes from women or upbringing, but I can tell you that with the lack of support that I had from other women that really comes back to their own insecurities and their own view of themselves and so many women talk about equality and how they feel like it is men that are suppressing women. I'm gonna say something controversial I don't really believe its men. I feel like it's our own doing, I feel that is it up to us and if we are not going to support each other as females then we are never going to have that impact that we want to have in the world."
When we take a longer look at our own female relationships, they do not seem so controversial. We are naturally and wonderfully competitive and strive high. But unfortunately sometimes in our blindness, we undermine and hurt other women in order to get ahead or seem better.
So Tima takes on the mentality that she doesn't care if a woman is prettier, smarter, more successful, etc then her. She knows how important it is to show equal support to all women.
Beauty And Business
A facet of human nature will always be wanting to look nice, and some can even make a living off of it! Being models or influencers, there is a variety of ways looks can help young people get ahead in life. But, focusing solely on the external can have devastating effects in the long term.
"I know that yes, people can make money off of their looks and there is nothing wrong with that, and there's nothing wrong with feeling sexy or wanting to look sexy or anything just define it for what it means to you, and sexy does not always mean showing your entire body, let's just be clear with that, and also if you rely on your looks, I'm sorry to say, physical beauty does not last forever and girls need to understand this and the more focused you are on your looks, the more obsessed you're going to be placing value on that ... there is nothing wrong with using it as a tool if you need to, but don't rely on it because there will always be someone younger and prettier than you."
So what should we already beautiful young women focus on in life? Maintaining ourselves well? Absolutely, and above all further developing our minds and our abilities.
"Substance does not fade, and if you invest in whatever it is that you are bringing into the world versus just how you look you've won... you're not relying on your looks because they are not always going to be there. And that's a sad part of aging, I just want women and young girls to really understand that because we don't want to be sexualized, we don't want to be treated differently to men, you know we want to be these strong women then don't focus on your looks, focus on your brain, focus on investing in yourself, that is how you show up in the world."