Hey Ladies: How to Be Assertive & Overcome Double Standards

Women are making moves. An increasing number of women are rising through the ranks of their professions to take executive and other top leadership roles in their organizations. Yet, women continue to struggle to acknowledge their own successes, to balance work and life, and to effectively handle double standards. At the Hey Ladies: How to Be Assertive & Overcome Double Standards panel during the 3rd bi-annual Find & Follow Your Passion conference, the candid and witty panel comprised of moderator Corynne Corbette (CEO, Chic Jones Media) and panelists Dodai Stewart (Deputy Editor, Jezebel), Kai A. Brown (Creative Services Director of Production & Operations, BET Networks), Liz Abzug (Founder/President, Bella Abzug Leadership Institute Inc.), and Zeny Huang (Creative Strategist, Code and Theory) shared lessons on being assertive and overcoming double standards, based on their personal experiences

hey ladies From right to left: Corynne Corbette, Liz Abzug, Kai A. Brown, Dodai Stewart, and Zeny Huang

It’s All in the Experience: Assertiveness is learned, not taught.
Zeny, naturally non-confrontational in character, says to let your work speak for itself. During her first two jobs, she learned how to communicate effectively, especially regarding topics in her expertise. When discussing such topics, “be nice about being smart”— don’t be a know-it-all.

Through various experiences at work, Kai has learned to listen to what others are saying, even if they disagree with her; she knows that she doesn’t have to defend her position just because of her gender. Pick and choose your battles wisely, as Dodai interjected that it is important to defend your work when attacked. In work, “it’s not personal, it’s business.” Additionally, look people in the eyes when you speak to them. There is something so powerful and irreplaceable about the impact made by making that visual connection with someone— “claim your power,” says Liz.

Growing up with feminist parents (including a Congresswoman mother), Liz learned from a young age to counter the double standard. “Don’t apologize for asking questions,” she says, “and act like you deserve a seat at that table.” Accordingly, it is important to remember that the company deserves you, says Kai, noting, “There is a difference in saying it with confidence and not with arrogance.”

“It’s not personal, it’s business”— Get What You’re Worth
Know your value, know the market, and know what others make at your level, advises Dodai. And, if you want more, don’t be scared to ask. Zeny recommends using Glassdoor to assist with estimating starting salaries, and to research based on specific companies and positions, as results may vary.

Kai, who has experience in hiring employees, says to tell employers the facts when negotiating pay or position. Be able to answer, “what have you accomplished?” The strongest responses are those that provide evidence and create a solid case for the salary or the position you believe you’re worth.

As Zeny so wonderfully put it, “Be your best fan, and ask [for what you want] if you think you deserve it.”

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Find a Mentor
A mentor is someone who truly believes in you, someone you can bounces ideas off of. Sometimes you find the right mentor, and other times, the right mentor finds you. When forging the relationship, look for someone who you not only connect with, but who is also both sympathetic and empathetic, says Zeny. Sympathy and empathy are attributes that distinguish the great leaders from the average. Kai has found that gender does not necessarily matter, as some of the best mentors she has had were men. Rather, know who are your allies and your adversaries, and focus on being in tune with the person and finding commonalities.

Getting Personal at Work: Be Friends With Your Peers, But Not Your Boss
It is important to remember that there is a distinct difference in communicating with a friend and with a client. And though it is more than okay to be friends with coworkers, Zeny stresses that “Work is work.” Creating the divide as necessary to ensure a focused approach at work is essential.

However, the game changes considerably with promotions. As your role in an organizations grows in leadership, Zeny notes that you must be able to distance yourself. At a senior level, you can’t connect with coworkers on the same personal level as you could when you were not in a position to make executive decisions.
And don’t forget to have a life outside work. Liz’s advice: Find partner’s and friends who support you mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

Remember, It’s OK to Doubt Yourself
As humans, we all doubt ourselves at some point. However, when that moment arrives while working, keep that moment of vulnerability to yourself. Though it’s okay to make mistakes, “never let them see you sweat,” says Kai.

Find What You Love; Find Your Passion.
“Many people think their career begins after college. They’re wrong. Your career begins now, or even before college,” says Kai. Ask yourself, “What makes your heart sing?” adds Corynne. Whatever it is is the thing you’ll want to hold on to. If you can make a career out of it, all the better! But don’t forget where your passions lie. Make them a part of your life however you can.

Do you have a story or advice about overcoming double standards? Let us know in the comments.

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