Half About Being a Woman

Greetings from the winter of my discontent…or maybe the winter of my extremely poorly-timed cleanse and generally hangry demeanor? After I gobbled down a tower of oysters and wine and sea urchin and then later some pork and sauerkraut for good luck (wherever I go and whatever I do, I will always be a good little Pennsylvania Dutch girl who worries that not eating at least a strand of sauerkraut on New Years will doom a year), I commenced on the second day of this year with a food cleanse and am still missing my old friends, caffeine, booze, wheat, dairy, and sugar.

So I will breathe a heavy sigh and eat my clementine and four almonds and sip my beloved Mountain Woman Tea and respond to a back log of emails including some from this very site. From time to time, I get emails from women seeking my advice on two things: 1) how to be successful in a male dominated field, and 2) how to be successful traveling to exotic locales alone and perhaps, because of New Years resolutions or whatever, there were a few to this effect today.

I am still learning lots on both these subjects, and can certainly give some practical, tactical advice, but lately I’ve seen a really nice theme emerge in three different pieces that looks at the benefit of being a woman rather than the detriment of being one.

Most of what one reads about women in tech tends to be about what puts women at a disadvantage, but recently, Stanford GSB ran a really nice interview with lecturer, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist Fern Mandelbaum. She covers lots of ground from gender inequality in the tech industry to managing one’s own psychology, but what really made me want to share the piece with you was her reframing of what makes women in an advantaged position:

“It’s a mindset. You can either look at being a woman as, ‘This is terrible, there are unconscious biases, what an uneven playing field.’ Or you can turn your difference into an advantage. When I was 13 I received my black belt in Taekwondo, and among other things, I learned to take negative energy and redirect it to my benefit. “I’m going to be the only woman in this meeting, and maybe it may be awkward and some people may not want me here, but it will certainly be easier for them to remember me.

There are other advantages, too. Women are often considered better listeners, intuitive and innovative, who create more collaborative cultures at their companies. And when you’re trying to recruit, those companies with women at the top have an easier time recruiting other great women. And given that many of the people you’re selling to are women, women leaders may help you be more attuned to your customers. “

The whole article is here.

Secondly, Iove her or hate her, Elizabeth Gilbert (The Eat Pray Love lady) has some really good advice that I have experienced firsthand. I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling I probably diffused several precarious situations in my travel because I am a woman and I smiled the warmest, most sincere smile I could to the people who were probably frightened of me in their own way. Maybe I could have done that had I been born a man, but maybe not….anyway, here is her sage advice on women traveling alone:

I myself have always had great experiences traveling alone. While there are certainly dangers, I have found that the same factors that make you vulnerable as a woman also make you powerful. What I mean to say is, a woman on her own does not telegraph a threat to anyone—which means that strangers all over the world will welcome you and trust you. They will let you into their houses. They will let you play with their babies. They will tell you their stories. They will give you a place to sleep. They will offer you assistance, food, directions, affection. I feel that, as a female traveler, I have had much more intimate experiences with new people than any man could ever have. They know I’m not going to hurt them, and so they open up to me. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

That said, do be careful—or at least alert. There are places in the world I would not travel alone. There are places in my own state I would not travel alone, for that matter. If you don’t see any local women walking around the streets at night, you probably shouldn’t be walking there either. Other tips:

DRESS MODESTLY. I keep this rule just about everywhere I go in the world that isn’t Miami. In developing countries or more conservative countries, I am especially careful to wear long sleeves and loose clothing. It’s more comfortable, for one thing. (Less sunburn!) It also tends to attract less male attention. But most of all, in places in the world where modesty still reigns, dressing carefully will win you the favor of local women—whose good graces you will always need. If you’re walking around in what looks to a nice Indonesian woman like underwear (tank top and shorts) she will be too embarrassed to interact with you. Try not to make people of either gender feel either aroused or embarrassed.

PACK LIGHTLY. I never travel with checked luggage…not anywhere, not for any amount of time. Carry-on only. Never bring more than you can comfortably carry. Being over-burdened makes you vulnerable in a thousand different ways. Stay light on your feet and you’ll be safer and less conspicuous. Also, you don’t really need it. Really, you don’t! If you’re traveling from place to place and living among strangers, nobody will notice that you work the same shirt today as yesterday. You will also be safer from people putting things in your luggage (drugs) or taking things out of your luggage (cameras) when you aren’t looking.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO LOOK STUPID. Try to speak some of the local language, even if it makes you sound like an idiot. People (except waiters in Paris) will usually be charmed, not appalled. Eat things you wouldn’t normally eat. Ask questions. It’s OK if you don’t know what’s going on — the whole point of being a visitor is not to know what’s going on, and to be unafraid to learn. Good manners and friendliness trump sophistication any day. You can always apologize for mistakes later.

DON’T ACT ENTITLED. I won’t give any examples here. Just ask yourself constantly, “Am I acting entitled?” Then stop. Actually, this is kind of good advice for even when you aren’t traveling.

And lastly, while this has nothing to do with career or travel, so many friends in my life are in pain from heartbreak. By chance, I stumbled onto this gem of a record that is just the perfect thing for dusting yourself off, celebrating your strengths, and moving forward. It is by an amazing singer-songwriter called Caroline Smith. I just adore her whole thing. Not coincidentally, the record shares the name of this post. Listen to it and be content.

I promise I will be in a better mood when next our paths cross…..sk

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