As a woman and as a businessperson, I am constantly working on and learning how to balance the masculine and feminine sides within myself. There is one part of me that is a “shark” (and love you, ABC’s Shark Tank!), and then there is this other side of me that is an absolute girly-girl — feminine, creative, a little nutty.
When I first started doing business, I was somewhat torn between the two in my head, and ended up suppressing my inner femininity in a way that wasn’t very true to myself — nor very nice to others. I was downplaying my feminine side, trying to pretend that gender wasn’t a thing that people ever thought about, that we were all simply androgynous business people.
Recently, at a trade show, I was talking with someone at the booth next door, and he told me that in his personal opinion, all women who get to executive levels at companies and top positions of power must walk, stand and poise themselves like men. Physically. To clear up my confusion, he pointed out a professional woman, in a skirt and blouse, walking alongside two businessmen in nice suits. All I saw was an attractive, confident businesswoman, but he saw a woman with her shoulders out, chest up and a stature full of confidence and self-assurance — which, to him, made her appear “like a man.”
I realized that his interpretation of an individual exuding confidence was that of being masculine and/or manly. And I realized I was looking down a never-ending rabbit hole of precognitive stereotypes, subconscious programming and centuries of oppression and suppression.
Then it hit me: my exact thinking pattern, and all the hangups I had in regards to being a woman and a feminine businessperson, were the exact sort of negative thinking patterns that aided the oppression of women, as opposed to liberating us. My mode of thinking was destructive to myself, and to the female gender as a whole. I had become my own worst enemy.
I understand there is no quick-fix answer that can wipe away thousands of years of cultural beliefs. However, what I do know is that we can either be a part of the problem — or a part of the solution. As Madame Marie du Deffand best said, “Women are never stronger than when they arm themselves with their weaknesses.”
Today, I embrace my inner femininity in all aspects of my business. I no longer view characteristics of being sweet, caring and empathetic as weaknesses, but instead as powerful strengths that show integrity and honesty. I am able listen to my heart and my inner desires, which lets me be true and authentic when making crucial decisions. I let myself be vulnerable to others by expressing my creative self, and putting it out into the world for others to see. I also see my female intuition as one of my most valuable tools for guidance and trust.
I could not be more proud to be a woman in business, and every time I push myself through a situation that makes me uncomfortable or nervous, I feel stronger, brighter and more powerful than ever. Happiness truly never comes from what you don’t have, but instead from what you do. Embrace the positive and the negative, the masculine and the feminine, the good and the bad. You can become quite the force to be reckoned with.
This article originally appeared on the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.