Growing up on Broadway musical cast albums and Disney movies has led me to constantly busting out into random musical numbers. Being younger than everyone at my job has led me to constantly using phrases that confound my older colleagues, like “live-tweeting” and “hype.”
I identify as a feminine-presenting, cis-gender female with a sunny, optimistic disposition. All of these characteristics have led to me being labeled “bubbly,” a “Disney Princess” and a “baby” in the workplace.
I actually agree with all of these descriptions, but I am frustrated with the way co-workers treat me because of them.
We know there is gender-discrimination in the workplace. For generations, women have experienced sexual harassment, unfair lack of opportunities due to motherhood, and a terrifying wage gap that has women only earning 77 cents for every $1.00 earned by men, according to the 2014 Shriver Report. For women of color, it is even worse, African-American women are earning only 64 cents and Latinas only 55 cents.
But for this situation, I’m not even blaming just men. I’ve experienced situations where it felt like older women were taking advantage of me because they thought I was too nice and cheery to engage with conflict. It seems that people think women with ~a zest for life~ can’t also be ambitious or capable of handling large projects. How do you get them to take you seriously?
It is possible to be dancing and singing to a Beyonce song one minute, and effectively leading a strategy meeting the next. Or even both at the same time -- I’ve seen it done.
So, I’m a Disney Princess? Okay. They have their own badass moments, too.
Here are seven tips on how to be taken seriously as a young, bubbly female:
1. Keep a list of your accomplishments:
Create a new system or process for your company? Make a note. Posted an Instagram photo with the highest engagement yet? Write it down. Organized the supply closet? Seal it in ink. Keeping a running list of personal achievements will help you see how many tangible solutions you’ve provided for your company and can be a visual reminder if you are questioning your value.
2. Become an expert in your field:
If you’re feeling scared, uncomfortable or inferior when approaching a project, get ready to dive headfirst. Emmy-winning Viola Davis tweeted, “When in doubt, dive,” and if Viola Davis said it, I believe it.
Don’t even know where to start? Tackle an intimidating project by breaking it up into smaller goals, and soon the pieces will show you how they all work together. This will help you go to project and strategy meetings prepared with facts, research, and questions. As you become an expert in your space, you’ll be the company’s go-to gal.
3. Channel your inner straight, white cis-gender male:
This is problematic, I know. While women shouldn’t have to act like men to establish a sense of power within the workplace, sometimes taking on the attitude of men helps us be less apologetic and more direct.
“Men are given opportunities based on their potential, and women are given opportunities based on their accomplishments.” -Lisa Kron, Tony-winning lyricist of Fun Home
Make sure to stay savvy and up-to-date on what the competitive salary is for your position and industry. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for a large raise at your review (be ready with your list of accomplishments and quantitative data of your impact). Don’t apologize when offering suggestions and feedback. Present your ideas with enthusiasm. Be swift as the coursing river with all the force of a great typhoon a la Mulan.
4. Reach out to older women in your industry:
Making connections and finding mentors will give you resources and access in your industry. You’ll have a go-to person for drinking pints and swapping all-too-familiar war stories, (“So man-splaining has always been a thing?”).
You can brainstorm and bounce ideas off of her and she can share solutions that worked for her. She can also introduce you to other women in the industry that you can learn from, too.
5. Create a peer support network:
While more established women in the industry can provide advice and perspective, it’s also important to gain insight from your peers. Women that have the same position across industries can be vital. They’ve probably experienced similar challenges and can help you reexamine yours in a new way to find a solution.
6. Be aware of “off-days” and take time for self-care:
I’ve found that having a bubbly personality means those around me expect me to be that way every day. That is not fair, nor realistic. You should be able to feel an array of emotions without feeling guilty of how that makes your co-workers feel. On these days that you don’t have rainbow glitter shooting out of your mouth, make time to reflect. Listen to your favorite music, drink water, journal about whatever is going on, and most importantly, don’t force yourself to be bubbly that day.
7. Be Yourself:
If we learned anything from Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, it’s that the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance is not wetting your hair within 24 hours at the risk of deactivating the immonium thyglocoate and to be yourself.
All of her Harvard classmates were busy hating on her being a young, bubbly female, but she lived her truth of smiling, wearing bright pink amongst the dull neutral shades of Northeastern sweaters and being a kind person. She worked hard and showed them all how valuable Elle Woods could be. Your company hired YOU for a reason.
Show ‘em why.