Credibility doesn’t only come with experience. It comes with gender.
We know that the amount of women in positions of power has increased, but we commonly make the mistake of assuming that with great power comes great credibility. Just because a woman speaks doesn’t mean she is listened to. Just because her opinion isn’t cut off or someone isn’t mansplaining to her, doesn’t mean her assertion was unquestioned.
#MeToo created the illusion that women are heard, and even more of a misconception, that women are believed. It’s true that women are speaking out and sharing their stories, opinions and visions – but while the frequency has increased, the weight of those words have remained largely unchanged.
For an industry that runs on ideas this is very problematic. Our convictions and opinions are our currency. We don’t have the luxury of unquestionable and quantitative data – at the end of the day everything we do is subjective, meaning that how credible we are perceived as being plays a big role in our success. And it’s mostly out of our hands.
I’ve spent over a decade in this industry, I don’t pretend to know it all by any means, but I have progressed to where I am today by having a strong understanding and good intuition of where I need to take a brand, an idea or a brief.
According to a theory published by Malcolm Gladwell and backed by various research, it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials. It is safe to say with the hours this industry demands, I have more than double mastery. If I felt confident enough, or needed the ego boost, by this definition I have the right to call myself an expert in the field and yet a large percentage of my time and energy goes towards defending my convictions. I am constantly searching for the rationale to back up my thinking and even then, rationale isn’t always enough. I don’t want to cry sexism, but time and time again the people whose opinions are considered of more value than mine, regardless of their job title – are men.
And while we are on the subject of job titles – does having a senior status help with credibility? Definitely. I have never felt more respected or listened to than with the word ‘executive’ in my bio. But does it mean that my hard-earned credibility doesn’t falter at the first opposition from a deep male voice? Definitely not. Our bias runs too deep to allow even rational hierarchy to intervene.
This is something that affects all women. How do I know this? Because women sense-check with other women in their circle. We are so aware of our situation that we are constantly asking other professional women – am I being sensitive about this? Am I being too shy? Do I need to talk louder? Should I have been more insistent? It is so much easier to blame our own behavior than to blame our own gender.
And this isn’t a men-against-women dilemma. But that doesn’t mean it’s not misogynist behavior. Unconscious bias runs deep in everyone – in fact I would say I have less problem with this in self-aware men who at least are informed enough to check their bias.
When a woman speaks and you want to question her, pause, and ask yourself why. It’s not about whether or not you agree with her, it’s about why you don’t believe what she is saying.
In other words, we all need to check our biases, all the time, especially when a woman is speaking. We can’t let women spend the rest of their future asking the question, “Am I credible yet?!”