You know the one. There’s a “look” I got as an Asian female each time I walked into a board room full of superintendents in collared shirts. It’s reminiscent of the “look” that Ketanji Brown Jackson got as she walked into her confirmation hearing. Hell, it’s the same “look” that charter school leaders get when walking into a room of traditional public school district administrators. It’s the same “look” that someone non-cisgendered gets in some parts of our country, and how Indigenous peoples have been “looked” at for centuries.
Have you gotten that “look”? Well, no human deserves to be “looked” at that way. Not in this day and age. Not ever.
I’m sick and tired of good ol’ boys running the show. I am so angry at the impenetrable glass ceiling in parts of my community. I’m disgusted that three incredible women in my circle recently were passed over for a job they earned through their accomplishments.
Why the hell is it that 76% of teachers are female but only 24% of superintendents are women? Why are 80% of principals white in a country that’s almost 50% nonwhite? Why was my starting salary as an assistant professor 70% that of my male colleagues, despite my attempts at negotiating for more?
This post isn’t about men-bashing. It’s not about “critical race theory”. It’s not about politics.
It's about finding a different way together. There is cognitive bias built into the system. It’s rooted deeply in our psychology. Our brains evolved to be biased towards “us” and against “them”.
I’m proud to say I’ve married an incredible white man who is my dearest ally and fiercest supporter. Clearly it is possible to judge one another on the contents of our character, skills, and experience rather that on outward appearances. It is possible to stop thinking in terms of “us” and “them”.
I love how astronaut Chris Hadfield puts it: “I was up (on the space station) for five months and it really gave time to think and time to look at the world, actually to steal 90 minutes at one point and just float by the window and watch the world, go round the world once with nothing to do but ponder it. And I think probably the biggest personal change was a loss of the sense of the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’.”
It’s time to reimagine power and leadership on our own terms. So long as you have the character, talent, and potential, then you belong in the room where it happens. If ever you have been on the receiving end of that "look”, here’s my tips for you.
First, you belong.
Even if you just got a door slammed into your face, don’t lose heart. Keep your head up and walk into the next room like you own it. Sit at the table like you belong there. Because you do. Enlist the help of an exceptional coach or therapist to master those persnickety voices in your head that question whether you are enough. You are worthy. You matter. You belong.
Second, you aren’t alone.
When you get that “look” or that door gets slammed in your face (again), let your tribe lift you back up again. It’s absolutely essential to have a tribe. When you have deep connection with others who believe in you, who will advocate for you, and who will stand by you whatever direction the winds blow, it’s a much softer landing.
It may feel that way but you aren’t alone. Find your tribe. Cultivate it. Grow it. Rely on it. There are many tribes to join. Find the one that’s right for you, that lifts you up, that brings others up. (If you are looking for a tribe, consider joining me at the women's leadership retreat I’m curating.)
Third, you are resilient.
Yes, we have evolved cognitive biases, but we have also evolved resilience. Humans are survivors. We get knocked down and stand back up again. Sometimes it helps to remember that we are walking a path alongside Martin Luther King, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Malala Yousafzai. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Sometimes it helps to recall the times in our own lives that were intensely challenging or heartbreaking, but yet we survived and perhaps even grew stronger in the process. My miscarriage and that sexual assault... I'm talking to you here.
Hope is essential. And even when it feels like hope is elusive, just putting one foot in front of the other and persisting works.
Finally, you are human.
Even the best of us fall prey to our fallible humanness. I, who teach about cognitive bias, fall prey to my biases. I sometimes (often?) fall into us versus them fearfulness with those that think differently politically from me. I, who teach about stress resilience, have days of despair.
Accept that we are human. There will be good days. There will be bad days. I own my mistakes and try to correct them. For instance, a few weeks ago, I noticed that I was getting extra fearful about local political issues, to the point I was (once again) wondering if it were safe for my family to stay in our town. To prevent myself from falling into “us” versus “them” I reached out to several of my friends that hold the opposite a political view to hear their stories – not to change anyone’s mind, but to restore compassion in my own heart and reconnect as human beings. Those were some of the most meaningful conversations of the past month towards restoring my hope for humanity.
This Asian woman is here to stay. I’m going to claim that seat at the table. I’m raising a fierce daughter and compassionate son to be part of the solution. I’m doing my part to blur the lines that separate us. I’m supporting other women and people of color I find on the way.
Whether you are male or female; white, brown, yellow, red, or black; poor or rich; cis or trans, may you find the belonging, companionship, resilience, and humanity you need.
If you want to change the way you think about hope, check out this gorgeous article by Margaret Wheatly.
If you are seeking a fantastic TED talk, check out this one on redefining power at work.
And if you want to change your own behavior by leaning in towards your cognitive biases, this TED talk on overcoming bias is awesome!
If you are seeking a tribe to hold you, or know of a woman who needs that in her life right now, consider the Heroine’s Journey. I remember leaving the retreat last year and just feeling so buoyed by the sense of deep connection and endless possibility. There’s magic in the feeling of a tribe of women who really believe in one another and who can see your soul beneath the surface. There’s power in feeling wholehearted supporters at your back. If something in you longs for that kind of group right now, reach out today. There’s less than a month before enrollment closes.
And if you are seeking one-on-one support for any of the above, my practice is currently full, but there's an opening coming up in mid-May if we're the right fit for each other. Reach out today.