I’m turning 31 soon, I’m a woman of colour and I’ve worked in white, female-dominated teams and departments for as long as I can remember.
I’ve been at my current company - a big, well-known corporation - for several years and lately, I've been scrutinising my own experiences to ask - as a woman in the workplace, can we win?
And if we can’t win – is this what I have to submit to as part of my realistic plan for my career-building 30s?
Watch: Celebrating working women. Post continues below.
Let’s start with one of the most brutal performance reviews of my career to date. It came shortly after my first promotion to manager and I was on top of the world. There were difficulties, but I thought I had worked through solutions that had impressed my manager and that I was making serious headway with senior (male) stakeholders. It felt challenging but rewarding.
I came prepped to this review with a request to work on broader strategic projects to continue to elevate my profile. So when she opened the meeting by asking me how I felt I’d done, I said exactly this. And then she cut me off.
She told me senior stakeholders did not take me seriously and had given her feedback that I was incompetent. She felt she had to step in for me because I was "too passive and agreeable". She rounded this out by saying that before I consider any over and above projects, I needed to be nailing my basic responsibilities.
I will say that I deeply admired and respectfully feared this woman, and looking back, I am thankful for this experience because it proved to me my resilience and helped to build the thick skin you need in this workplace.
But in that moment I was shocked. I held it together, nodding my way through the rest of the review as I have a firm rule against crying at work, but my mind was already racing through every interaction I'd ever had since I was promoted. I felt sick thinking about times I smiled in meetings, trying to be friendly to establish a rapport and how this has been interpreted; that I was ill-suited for this high-pressure, competitive leadership role.