What is it like to be the only woman in the room?

imagesKate Lee, at the Medium, asked me to write for a new series “Letters to my Mother/Daughter”. Emily and I are doing one together.  Very cool idea.  In her email there was also a future topic to be covered….what is it like to be the only woman in the room?

I have been the only woman in the room more than a several times.  In the past few months it has happened more than a handful of times.  I am greeted with open arms but I wonder if I have changed the room at all.  As I have gotten older I find it to be less of a challenge to be heard but more of a responsibility to be the leader in the room.  Essentially to show that I know my shit.

There is something intimidating to most women sitting in a room full of men who supposedly know about everything.  The reality is that they don’t.  They might be more comfortable in those meetings because they are confident in those rooms.   What I have discovered over the years is just became they appear to be confident doesn’t mean that they know what’s going on.

I always sat at the table like everyone else but in the past I probably listened more than I spoke.  I learned a long time ago not to start my sentence in those meetings with “I think” but to jump in with my comments instead.  Be articulate, be bold and show pure confidence and no fear. You are in the meeting because you deserve to be there not because they asked a token woman.  If you can shift your thoughts to that it makes all the difference in the world.

For whatever reason, DNA, lessons from my parents, I never felt intimated in that environment.  I remember being in an executive session with all men and one of them came up with an absurd financial decision that would hurt the organization for years to come.  I was the only one in the room who said that it was not a wise move.  He was insanely condescending to me about how I did not understand what he was saying. He attempted to describe it again but slower like I would better understand it.  I fired back.  I got what he was saying but here is what I am saying that this thinking is irresponsible.  He was very ruffled and ended up resigning from that committee the next day.  Guess I made my point.

The other day I was in an investor meeting and I was the only woman in the room.  It actually made me chuckle.  I asked questions, I prodded, I understood what was being talked about.  I spoke more than anyone in the room.  Towards the end one of the men piped up and asked me…what exactly do you do?  It made me laugh to myself even more.

I have been the only woman in the room more than I care to be.  By setting my own agenda and being bold I hope to open the door for more women to come flooding into those meetings with me.  That would be the best thing that could happen.  More women change the conversation.