Every once in a while I meet a woman who has quietly taken stereotypes, looked them in the eye and with a quick flick of the wrist lobbed them into the discard pile.
Rosie Saez a Senior V.P. of H.R. at Wachovia Bank is a stereotype buster. She has been in the world of banking for over 20 years and has participated in helping change this mainly male dominated world over several decades.
I asked her what patterns of behavior were the hardest for her to change as a woman in a man’s world. There is a two step answer. First, she told me, that growing up as a Latino she was taught women answered second and did what they were told, that they were programmed to be pleasers. There was a pecking order not to be messed with. So, it took her time to find her voice and speak up without hesitation.
I thought about this and all the women I have interviewed and worked with. Speaking up has been a tough up hill battle for many woman, and one main reason has been cultural orientation. Many cultures have required woman to be on the second tier of decision making, especially of important decisions. It is hard to believe that we only have the right to vote since 1920.
There is also a strong stereotype that dictates being bold and speaking out is not feminine. Until recently women who spoke out usually had a five letter word attached to their name as in “So and so is such a —“.
Is this because we all hated being chastised by our mothers when we were kids? Is it because all the mothers and wives on sitcoms were relatively passive when the tough times needed to be handled? Is it because we know how strong we are at the core and don’t want to overpower our male counter parts? Think Wonder Woman or Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. Perhaps now is the time to look for male/female partnership rather than the extremes of either the passive or the poke your eyes out mentality.
Rosie shared a story about having to give the President of her Bank feedback from a 360 review. Even the men rolled their eyes in fear about the confrontation that was bound to be uncomfortable. Everyone was glad she was the sole representative to do this. It was a difficult session and took all the skills she had developed along the way about truth trumping conformity. The pleaser when transformed definitely does become a powerful truth teller.
As Rosie tells it, she learned to speak out through her past training when, as a social worker with young Puerto Rican males; she was in charge of construction on a new school building. Initially the boys would not pay any attention to her and she had to go through a male foreman. Then she decided that she better find a way to get her points across without deferring to their macho side. It took some time for her to claim her power and when she did, they listened. And so did the CEO of the bank.
The other pattern Rosie addressed, so common to women, is that of the rescuer. She knew how to jump in and do what was asked of her. If she held back she would feel guilty that she had not jumped in to make it happen. Sound familiar to any of you? It certainly did to me.
Her major lesson in the work place, actually in all areas of her life is how to be empathetic rather than enabling. It is, she admitted, a balancing act to which she still has to pay deep attention. She constantly reminds herself that showing instead of doing has the longest long term benefit.
Transforming the rescuer energy to that of the mentor has made a major difference. It is the “teach them to fish rather than give them the fish” mindset that keeps Rosie in demand as a teacher in her work day.
Interesting that while Rosie is a ‘thoroughly modern Millie’ she does not believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water. The traditions from the past that instill respect, responsibility, caring, giving, and the honoring of community are important to be continued. So, it is all about deciding what patterns from the past no longer have real human value and transforming them while maintaining those that are life enhancing.
As I listened to her, I was struck by the importance of blending the best of the past with the best of the present to help us all walk into the future with high level leadership skills.