One of the quickest ways to annoy me is to complain that there aren’t enough women in business, or start-ups, or math classes, or whatever. I think it bugs me so much because I – as a woman – have participated in both business, and start-ups, and math classes.
I hate these questions because it hints at some intrinsic flaw that women have. “Women aren’t a force in start-up companies because they don’t like risk.” “Women aren’t in math and sciences because they lack the confidence to think they can participate.” I think there are truths to those statements at a very high level, but as an individual, I hear them and I think “Ugh, not again.” There are plenty of men who do not start their own company, plenty of men who get literature degrees, and very few people are going “Yeah, that makes sense, you’re doing that because you’re missing that certain something” in a judgy “if only you were better” kind of way. People don’t analyze men’s choices through the lens of inherent personality traits, but they do with women – they do with me — and I hate it.
Years ago, a male coworker – in an attempt to get under my skin – asked me: “Doesn’t it bother you that that guy over there that is your age with the same skill set – makes more money than you?” And my exact response was “No. Because if he makes more money than me, that means I negotiated a crappy salary, and that’s on me.” And I still feel confident in that answer, because the coworker he was referencing? Did not make more money than me. Do I *hate* negotiating salaries? For sure. Do I do it well? For sure. Women as a collective may be thought to have many flaws but as an individual person I would prefer if it was not assumed that I do.
(Disclaimer: of course there is an institutional bias towards women in industry. The conflicts of motherhood and working and the effects that having kids has on salary earnings – it’s all real. I do understand that. But that’s a flaw of the system, not a flaw of the person, and the assumption of personal shortcomings are the areas to which I am referring.)
This is all my way of saying that I bristled when I saw an article shared on Facebook titled: “The Trouble With Bright Girls”, because, like, greeeeaaaatttt, yet another example of my assumed less-ness. But this article pleasantly surprised me; for one of the first times in a girls vs. boys discussion, I actually related to the girls:
She found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up – and the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than giving up
Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.
Ok, you know: this groks. It is not surprising to me that I’m good at my job– I expect that to be true; I consider my intelligence and general competence a part of who I am. How different would it be, however, if I considered my success to only be an earned result of sustained effort (which if I’m being objective, it must be) versus just an assumed outcome?
Now that I’m typing this, it seems remarkably silly. I’m not inherently good at athletics, but 5x/week of Crossfit and hey, look at me, I’m kicking ass there. The challenge of getting better is energizing to me, and because of that I’m seeing results I would never have expected considering my baseline athletic skill-set. How easy would it be for me to have just said “I’m not an athlete, I won’t be good at this” and just continue to … not be good at it? (Very easy, if the first 20 years of my life are any indication.) So this morning I read this article, and I thought of my crossfit life, and I found myself going: “…well, shoot.” Looks like my genderness had something to teach me after all. I would do well to remember:
No matter the ability – whether it’s intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism – studies show them to be profoundly malleable. When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot.