Women at Matter: Barriers + Challenges in the Workplace and Beyond

By Matter

In honor of Women’s History Month, our Women’s Professionals Circle is conducting an interview series highlighting perspectives of some of Matter’s female leaders on the issues and challenges women face in the workplace, in our culture and at home. After voting on which topics our group wanted the interviewees to shed light on, we’ll be focusing on “Barriers + Challenges,” “Parenting + Working,” and “Advice to Younger Women + Working in a Predominantly Female Industry.” First up – barriers and challenges women often face.

Question: Women often get interrupted, overlooked, outshined or their performance is unfairly scrutinized in some way. What has been your experience with this and how have you overcome these types of obstacles?

Vanessa Taylor, General Manager, Precision

I’ve encountered that plenty and I know others have as well. At times, it’s been obvious that some [client] point people, while they are pleasant and respectful, just don’t care what we have to say as women. They automatically redirect their comments or their questions to whatever man is in the room, even though he isn’t involved in the day-to-day business and has nothing meaningful to offer.

I advise simply refusing to be bypassed, entering right back into the conversation and saying, “[male figure] is not involved in the day-to-day of your account. We are the ones who understand what’s going on with your business, and this is what we recommend.”If it continues to happen, having the support of your colleague who’s receiving the questions can help shift the focus back to where it should be. It’s critical to not only stand up for yourself, but also have the support of your expanded team, which is something this agency has always been really good about.

Danielle O’Neil, Director, Integrated Marketing Strategy

We used to have to present an annual marketing plan as a leader of a marketing group within a large corporation. My team and I were responsible for presenting brand projections anywhere from 12 to 18 months in advance, and we would stand in a room and be grilled on the presentation, which is perfectly acceptable and fine. Where it began to cross the line was when people commented on your appearance — if there was lack of pantyhose, if you wore a light grey suit instead of dark grey, if you were wearing heels, and so on. There was more “coaching” on proper attire for women than for men.

Being a young woman in the room I would be bold and direct to show I mean business and help gain the respect I deserve. Looking back at some of my experiences where I have taken the misogynistic remarks or actions, it was out of a place of preserving my career growth which is what I needed to focus on at the time. In other instances where I have stood up for myself after being “kicked in the teeth” verbally, I was always armed with the knowledge to back up my response that supported my “rebuttal.”

Question: There are often societal pressures women feel outside of the workplace. Can you speak to your experience with that, if any, and how you’ve overcome these types of pressures?

Vanessa: Women bear the brunt of responsibility for a great deal, especially when it comes to having kids. Right now, there seems to be great pressure on women to “do it all;” pressure for women to “hustle 24/7” — which is especially prevalent in PR and entrepreneurial spaces. I think women can have all they want, but I don’t think there has to be this constant grind … I’m fiercely protective of pockets of time I can spend sitting and doing nothing, especiallyas a working mom, and I think others should be too. Luckily, I’m fortunate enough to have the support to do that. Occasionally.

Danielle: I was Miss Corporate America – I was dedicated to my job, and I worked hard at it. I do believe woman can have it all, but it becomes increasingly challenging to establish the foundational stuff while you’re young and have that energy to be dedicated to where you are and who you are at work. There’s something to be said about how you position yourself at the office and what risks you’re willing to take in terms of what and how much you’re willing to share about being a woman, a mom and the responsibilities that you have in your personal life as well. In no way, shape or form can I lead a dual life just because people might feel uncomfortable that I need to be a mom as much as, if not more, than I need to be a business professional.

Stay tuned for our next blog post highlighting more of our many female leaders and their perspectives on parenting and working.