I’ve always been the above average tall girl with shoulders of a linebacker and a tomboy(ish) streak. Since the time I was old enough to win the battle of the pigtails hairstyle with my mother I’ve worn my hair short to super short.

It still doesn’t make me a sir.

A lifetime of awkward moments and exclusion adds up to a strange mix of tolerance, compassion, and irritation that arises every time I find myself at the end of someone else’s assumptions.

Some memorable moments of this include:

  • Being a young teen girl waiting in line for the ladies’ room in a major department store when the woman in front of me spins around and snarks “THIS is the LADIES room line. The MEN’S room is over there.”
  • My boss telling me point blank that “It would be better if you could just leave your personality at the door, then we wouldn’t have any problems with you”. {Sorry! Not willing to do that!}
  • Countless cashiers, servers, and others calling me sir as I bore a hole through them with my stare of disbelief.

You might not know how it feels to be the “other”.  Or how frustrating it is to be the square peg that doesn’t fit in the round hole of “acceptable standards” that makes other people expect. But I do.  It is both painful and liberating.

No one is perfect and I certainly make my own share of assumptions and blunders.  I’ve lived enough years to understand that most of the time people don’t have ill intentions when they do something unkind.  But that doesn’t make it any less hurtful or awkward.

Where I’ve found this challenging is in professional groups, particularly “women’s groups” where some global assumption is made about everyone. As if all women fit a “stepford wives” cardboard cutout definition.  I still have flashbacks to events held by a business and networking group I used to be a member of where everything was about the shoes! The stilettos! The glitz! The wardrobes! The cute guys!

I would typically stand at those social events in my standard one pair of black casual shoes (men’s of course as I have big feet), turn to my wife and say… I guess I am not winning the shoe contest again this year!

More power to you if high heels and fashion light you up.  Lean into it and enjoy. However, for me those groups and networking events were alienating at best.  My vote would have been to let us all line up and compare hiking boots, tell trail stories, and gab about gear… now THAT I could get behind.

It doesn’t make one person or interest better or worse.  What it does mean to me is that we always have to remember that everyone is unique, and assumptions are best explored.   If we lead or participate in a group, we each have a responsibility to set aside assumptions and make the effort to understand what our words and actions convey. To be ok with inadvertently making a mistake and then making it right.

It's not about being “politically correct” or “walking on eggshells” or even avoiding any discord.  It’s about being willing to see and respect each other for who we are.  There isn’t just one brand of woman or man (and for the love of all things sacred, please don’t create a product line for women and paint it pink). In fact, not all people even identify in a binary way. (Personally, that was news to me, and I am still learning and letting others educate me on those topics.)

The point being is we are always learning and relating.  I try to strike a balance between “staying in my own lane” and not thrusting my opinions where they don’t belong with expressing my views.  The best way I’ve found to be more inclusive and honor diversity is to start with widening my own lens of who is in the room (metaphorically or physically).   That is the single best way we can lift ourselves and others up – by being curious, exploring our assumptions, and learning from one another.

 

Paula Gregorowicz (aka “Paula G”) is a member of the Montgomeryville, PA Chapter. As the owner of The Paula G Company LLC she helps you streamline and simplify your small business through business coaching, process/systems implementation, and website creation. Visit: https:thePaulaGCompany.com for more. When not helping business owners be more profitable and create more playtime, she can be found adventuring outdoors, cycling, kayaking, behind the lens of her camera or enjoying her myriad of interests.