Over the course of their career, many women have been labelled “emotional” or “sensitive” in a negative light, but that same label, used on a man, might carry a completely different meaning. Here’s how these women broke free of their labels and embraced their true selves in the workplace.

This International Women’s Day, we’re honouring and celebrating the accomplishments of women who make important contributions to the workplace and the world.

 

In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we asked men and women from across the Adecco Group to share the biases they have encountered in their working lives – and the advice they would give other women facing similar barriers and glass ceilings. We believe in talent, not labels.

 

Cindy Lee, SVP Finance Adecco APAC, located in Singapore

When I stepped up to a new senior role and was introduced to the team, a manager praised me as “pretty.” It seems to be a compliment but puts me down as it makes me feel that my capability was undermined and neglected.

 

I was sometimes labelled as sensitive when I was young, making me doubt my capabilities. But when I grew up and accumulated my experiences, I realised that being sensitive helped me better observe the situation and people around me, which provided good insights for managing challenging situations.

 

Do not listen to the words others use to call you that make you uncomfortable. Learn to ignore them and focus on the right things to do. Take the courage to speak up and fight for yourself if unfairness happens to you.

 

Jalie Cohen, Group SVP, HR Americas, located in the U.S.

Throughout my career, people in positions of authority have constantly called me different. It’s been used as a tool to ostracize me. People have always made it seem like my diversity works against me in the corporate world.

 

Early in my career people would label me as a “double diversity hire” as if this was my only qualification. I have let this fuel me not as a label but a superpower, the strength of all the women before me and the resilience of the black community is in my DNA and combined is a powerful force that provides me “double” the drive to excel.

 

Kelsey McGee, Global Product Marketing Manager, LHH, located in the U.S.

Whether leading projects or teams, my natural energy, positivity and genuine desire to get to know others often catches people off guard. I’ve been called fake or “too bubbly”, and there is a correlation between the view that someone who is bubbly is also brainless. However, those labels would not be used to describe a man in the workplace. Equivalent terms used to describe men may include enthusiastic, personable, outgoing, confident, chipper, full of vitality, charismatic, encouraging.

 

I see my personality type as a major advantage in the workplace. Being a personable, enthusiastic and charismatic woman can positively affect morale, team bonding, open communication, help to encourage others and much more. I have an optimistic approach to life and challenges, in and out of work, which equates to a growth mindset that I’m proud of.

 

Don’t let the opinions of others dim your light or change who you fundamentally are. It’s possible to be your authentic self, and let your work speak for itself.

 

Mike Small, Regional President, AKKA Modis Americas, located in the U.S.

As an African American male, I have experienced labelling in my career and I know how those labels made me feel so I can speak with empathy on the topic of labelling women. Labelling anyone is something I don’t do and something I don’t believe in. Labels I have experienced made me feel defensive, less than, and like I did not belong. Now is an opportunity where all of us from a diversity, equality, and inclusion perspective have to take a look in the mirror and drop all our biases and all our pre-conceived notions of one another and really focus on the individuals around us, the individual’s role and responsibility, what they bring to the table, and their unique value. I have two daughters and two sons, and I want to make sure that every one of my children can compete on an equal playing field.

 

Have I seen labels like this being attributed to some of our female colleagues in my experiences in corporate America? The answer is yes. The advice and counsel I have is:


  1. Make sure you have a great mentor and/or make sure you are speaking to somebody who can relate and can provide advice and counsel in a penalty-free environment. It is also very important to have a shoulder to lean on when we need to be propped up.
  2. Make sure you are helpful to others. Be hopeful and celebrate others that are being promoted, recognized, and rewarded. This is a great way of giving back and promoting others which is the best part of my job today! It takes you out of self and you will always feel better after you help someone else.

 

Do I expect that some of our great female leaders will be taking over from me and others within our industry? The answer is yes. I am very hopeful and optimistic.

 

I would like to close my answer to the original question by providing three key traits put into practice by some of my successful female colleagues that each and every one of us can put into practice:


  1. Have a seat at the table and don’t sit in the back of the room. Sit in the middle of the boardroom table and make sure you are taking up enough space
  2. Have a great mentor
  3. Be accountable to yourself and reach back and pull someone else through by sharing your experiences, your hope, and becoming the best version of yourself.

 

Reshma Ramachandran, Group SVP, Head of Transformation, located in Switzerland

When I first started working out of my home country, I was very conscious of the fact that I was typically the only woman of colour in a team or group. I also realized that I had to put in at least 3 times the effort compared to others with privilege to get accepted. This often resulted in my then managers telling me that I am too emotional or defensive when I have fought back on things that were right or important for the projects that I have led. Being able to stand up for myself was often, probably still is, viewed as emotional & defensive.

 

Throughout my career, people in positions of authority have constantly called me different. And yes, I am different and that is the fundamental definition of diversity. It’s been used as a tool to ostracize me, to keep me out of power positions and decisions. People have always made it seem like my diversity works against me in the corporate world.

 

For every person that has labelled me, I have had many other who have chosen to see who I am, as I am. Don’t let a few people and their labeling derail you from going after your dreams. The future of work is inclusive – for those who still see us as “different” will simply perish. Without inclusion, there is no diversity. Without diversity, there is no innovation. And without innovation, companies will simply perish.

 

Valerie Beaulieu, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at The Adecco Group, located in Switzerland

I cannot remember how many times I received the feedback from male colleagues that I was “too assertive” when in truth I was sharing nothing more than an informed point of view with the confidence of a man.

 

When you grow as a leader, it often feels like a catch-22 for a woman: to emerge from the ranks, you are expected to exhibit “leadership traits” such as assertiveness and confidence. But in doing so, you get the immediate backlash of breaching the feminine stereotypes and a real “likeability” penalty, which in turn can jeopardize your opportunity to be promoted.

 

As much as I would love women and men not to be judged differently for the same behavior, in the meantime I would recommend that without letting go of your confidence, you bring warmth to your competence by softening the language, reconciling stereotypes and propel you forward.

 

Corinne Ripoche, Regional President, Adecco Americas, located in the U.S.

As a rising professional, I was often labeled as “too early” and “too ambitious”. Too early to take an important job, even if offered to a man of equal or lesser qualifications. My ambition was seen as arrogance.

 

In my mid-30’s, I was passed up for a leadership role. The CEO said I was smart, had all the competencies, that my husband was lucky to have me as his wife - but it was too early for me to take a bigger role. I learned the position was offered to a male with less experience but it was his ambition that set him apart. My ambition was seen as entitled or silly, while my male peer’s ambition was the positive trait that earned him the role.

 

For too long, we’ve had workplace cultures that put people in boxes. Acknowledge the box you may be in but break through and instead build a network. Female talent, especially early in career, need to build their constellation maps. With yourself in the center, map out your promoters, mentors, sponsors, even your detractors. With your goals in mind and your purpose in your heart, lean on your supporters to help grow your career and strengthen your skills.

 

Look at your detractor’s motives or alleged reasons behind your label. Often, it’s because they are intimidated or ignorant. Remember that is on them, not you. Never lose your voice or ambition to achieve your goals. They may not be ready to welcome your ambition, but so many in your constellation network are.

 

Philippe Martinez, Global Head of Solutions, Adecco, located in Switzerland

Generic statements regarding any sexual orientation, race, religion, CEO, or Olympic champions doesn’t make any sense! Being myself, as Gay, part of a minority, I have suffered from being tagged and hopefully never making the same mistake regarding Women. As a leader, a manager, a colleague, raise your voice strongly when you hear anything like that.

 

Don’t listen and be yourself, be authentic, don’t try to copy male. Care about your team, colleagues and clients and demonstrate the “narrow minded” they are deeply wrong!

 

Gordana Landen, CHRO of the Adecco Group, located in Switzerland

It is very important that we, as females and parents, feel that we can manage both a career and taking care of our families. The only fear I have is that women will end up taking the biggest burden for their families due to the historical gender roles or even unconscious biases. It’s important to create a foundation of shared responsibility for taking care of children with your partner as well as getting support from family, friends, work and government initiatives.

 

That’s why we are proud to have our New World Working guiding principles at the Adecco Group. This assists and guides our leaders how to support and role model the right behaviours to achieve a healthy balance for both personal and professional needs. For example, how our colleagues can benefit from hybrid working, smart planning and taking accountability of our wellbeing. This way everyone has a chance to be a part of the world of work regardless of gender. Talent matters, not labels.

 

At the Adecco Group, we are committed to achieving gender parity in leadership levels by 2030. We are part of Paradigm for Parity, a coalition of business leaders committed to eliminating gender gaps in corporate leadership.

 

Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group

For me, International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on how we can all do more to achieve gender equality in the workplace. I am proud of the progress our company has made – half of our Board of Directors are women, and one third of our executive committee – but clearly we have more to do.

 

At the Adecco Group we believe in talent, not labels. How do we accelerate our shift to a fully equal world? In part, by being conscious of bias, and actively shaping a consciously inclusive culture through our words and actions. Listening to and acknowledging people's experiences with bias at work is such an important step on our collective journey towards gender equity and equality.

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