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[Don’t] Act your age

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a new business pitch that opened my eyes to two very valuable lessons:

  • Respect among a room full of older gentlemen can be lost in less than five minutes
  • For now, proving my knowledge and expertise will be an uphill battle

For those who have yet to have the privilege of pitching for a potential client, the experience is often nauseating and finished before you blink. The anticipation and execution collide into an incredible rush of adrenaline that often only makes sense in hindsight.

The best feedback I received laid it out quite bluntly and simply: As a woman, my content, composure and presentation must be near perfection. We all know that it’s one thing to be a woman and taken seriously in business situations – it’s another being a twenty something year-old woman, speaking about social media that can be a double hurdle to clear.

Interesting how in a matter of minutes, I had been assessed and taken less seriously than someone five, ten years my senior. In retrospect, I can pinpoint the exact moment in which I had shown vulnerability and my “junior-ness”. There’s no denying that I’m a novice. I naively entered the situation with the hope that my enthusiasm and knowledge would carry me through. Unfortunately, that’s not how the real world works – one must remember to find the ROI (a term that’s starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth).

Funny how even in this century – it is business as usual.

The entire experience reminded me of John Malloy’s 1970 book, “Dress for Success” that received significant backlash for being sexist in its examination of appropriate business clothing. Still think this applies today?

It is undeniable that the growth pain for any young professional will be in striking the balance. However, as a younger workforce – one especialy influenced by the expectations of working in a “Google-like” environment – enters the real-world, it will be inevitable that the lines between age and sex will blur.

But, until then, if you’re going to succeed in business, the same mantra applies – you better learn to play the game,  and have a thick skin. Oh, and try not to act your age.


4 Responses

  1. I can’t wait for the line between age and sex to blur. Going to be one kickass orgy.

  2. As an older male geek now who started my professional tech career at age 16 in 1986 – I can associate with you.

    They often confused enthusiasm for technology as obsession with technology. Geeks got beat up badly in corporate world in the early 1990’s. You had to work really hard to earn cred with these folks (I published books, I was president of a user’s group).

    This is American corporate culture at it’s worst. Conformity. Comfort. Fancy office, 9 to 5, everyone commute in a big car at the same time of the day.

    We aren’t going to be able to complete globally if we don’t realize the world is no longer “management” vs “factory staff” – the WHOLE WORLD is development management/people skills. And we put down the best and brightest of our own talented youth – how do they think we will compete with the younger more hungry countries?

    Sad thing – these old as*holes will get their due. They all think they can go retire at 65, live another 35 years in Florida – all at the same time. Right now they rule the world with their stockmarket and McMansion empires. Watch what happens over the next 8 years.

    I’m very happy to know you, it is so great to see a future leader who will help rebuild after the crash comes. I wish we could avoid the pain, but I don’t think we can. Too much good times = fat cats. We (USA business) don’t even get what it is about, and we created the internet and (in better times) spread the word of freedom and tolerance to the rest of the world. ARGH.

    Hang in there, we need you to hone your leadership skills for the future – when these guys are all asking “what happened?!”

  3. I’ve only seen the diminution of women’s status at arm’s length, but I’ve seen it often enough to have an idea of how pervasive it is across the business world, even here in our supposedly enlightened century.

    Your point re ROI is a good one, too. Sometimes it’s hard to remember just how much knowledge and experience the silverbacks have about money and how it’s made. Not saying they’re right about everything, just that many of them have made so many treks through the business landscape that they’re highly attuned to what will keep their organizations going tomorrow and next month and next year. For many of them, this equates to cash money, not our cherished concepts of “community” and the like.

    Even if they’re sympathetic to what those of us in the younger set SAY about social media . . . they want to see the numbers. That puts the burden on us to SHOW them that it works. Especially given the imperfect nature of social media metrics today, that can be a real chore. But the effort is worth it — especially if making that effort is the only effective way to bridge the gap across the generations.

    Go get ’em!

  4. with all the serious comments, I have to add… or your shoe size. 😉

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