Maybe He Was Just Nervous…

I came across this article today on Linked in: How to succeed as a young woman executive.

Overall the article gives great advice not just for women but for aybody who is trying to build a successful career.

But the author begins her article with this story:

I was naïve to gender inequality until it hit me square in the face. A few years ago, my CEO Ed and I accepted a meeting with a financial institution that wanted our business. During the course of our meeting, one gentleman refused to make eye contact with me. He presented to the other two men in the room as if I didn’t exist. Ed, as intuitive as he is, caught on. At the end of the meeting, he playfully commented, “You’ll have to get Kira’s approval. She makes all of the decisions around here.” The gentleman looked as if he’d seen a ghost.

The implication being, of course, that the guy didn’t see her as worth talking to. Because she’s a woman.

Was this guy a closet sexist? Maybe. Maybe he was a really old-school guy who felt that women don’t have a place in the office.

But there is another possibility: that he was just nervous or intimidated in front of a woman.

Some people may not see this as a real thing. I know it is because I struggled with nervousness around women (especially attractive women) and I worked with dozens of guys who were similarly nervous or intimidated by women.

It’s not because of anything the women did. Rather, this kind of thing (as well as the reverse, women who feel intimidated around men) usually has roots back in childhood, how we were socialized, our experience with the opposite sex back in middle school, and so on.

As we get older we have disempowering and negative thought patterns that come out in situations exactly like this one.

I’ve experienced it myself more times than I’d like to admit, and I’ve witnessed it with others countless times.

We fail to communicate effectively because we are limited by our insecurities.

Like a child who is shy and withdrawn around adults, we simply do not engage with certain people. Not because we don’t like them or see them as “unworthy” of our attention. But because of our own anxiety and insecurity.

But usually, on the surface, it looks no different than if someone genuinely doesn’t like the other person. Shyness and social anxiety are often perceived as contempt or snobbishness. From Wikipedia:

Those who are shy are perceived more negatively, in cultures that value sociability, because of the way they act towards others. Shy individuals are often distant during conversations, which can result in others forming poor impressions of them. People who are not shy may be up-front, aggressive, or critical towards shy people in an attempt “to get them out of their shell.” This can actually make a shy person feel worse, as it draws attention to them, making them more self-conscious and uncomfortable. [my emphasis]

This might explain the guy’s reaction at the end “as if he’d seen a ghost.”

It’s unfortunate that Kira, the author, felt left out and disrespected. The guy should have been respectful and included her in the conversation.

If my instincts are right and he was just nervous around an attractive woman (or around any woman, for that matter), then the guy needs to work on his social confidence.

By allowing his anxiety around her to affect him, he became disrespectful. His message was undermined and he damaged a potentially beneficial business relationship.

On the other hand, if he genuinely feels that a woman is not worth taking seriously, that is a whole other problem. He needs to learn that everyone deserves respect and acceptance and he should communicate accordingly. Certainly in a professional setting.

As for Kira, being aware of this anxious tendency in some (many) men might have given her another insight into what was happening.

Instead of feeling put down or dismissed by a man, she might have interpreted the situation very differently.

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