I have the privilege of working alongside a world-class team that happens to consist of mostly men. Twelve men to be exact, including my founding partner and trusted mentor Bill Waitsman.
Northwest Arkansas’ Network of Executive Women chapter consists of over 1,200 members (made up of both women and men) representing hundreds of companies doing business across Benton and Washington counties. We have incredible organizations such as Women in Networking, the Junior League of Northwest Arkansas and Dress for Success where women come together to impact our community.
Northwest Arkansas is also home to three Fortune 500 companies, each of which sponsors (on the local and national level) forums, conferences and mentor groups.
I’ve even had the privilege of spending time with Dean Matt Waller and many talented female professors and administrators leading within the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business. An argument could be made that Northwest Arkansas’ base infrastructure is light years ahead of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and even Washington, D.C., when it comes to community awareness and involvement in advancing and empowering women in business.
Why then, as a woman, do I work alongside mostly men?
I didn’t even realize this was the case. Not until I started thinking about writing this op-ed.
One of our top data scientists recently informed me he needed to relocate and brought forward his replacement candidate, who happened to be a woman. Now, our lab is relatively small with little hierarchy and/or reporting structure. The members of our team self-organize for the most part, so given the nature of our work, bringing forward a single backfill candidate is not uncommon when a member of the team leaves.
I enjoyed getting to know the candidate through a casual but intense interview process. She spent a lot of time with our team, ran proofs within our simulation environment, passed the personality test and was clearly a great fit.
As I was meeting with a couple of my team members to draft her offer including start date and onboarding expectations, I paused and asked what I now realize was a narrow and inappropriate question.
“Will you guys look out for her,” I asked. The two male team members I was meeting with looked at me puzzled. I thought maybe they needed additional clarification, “I mean … You know … Well … I’m really direct … and have really high [sometimes unreasonable] expectations…”
Still looking at me as if I was playing a game of underwater whisper, I continued, “I just want to make sure she doesn’t feel like she needs to be someone she’s not. Promise me [you guys] will help her be strong and push back on me … the way the rest of the team does.”
The men looked at one another, smiled, and then looked back at me. One of them tilted his head and said gently, “I think we’re both really surprised by your ask. She doesn’t need anyone to look out for her. She’s a strong, intelligent, competent candidate. You and our entire team has confirmed she’s the one for the job. We’re drawing up the paperwork, and you’re asking us to ‘keep an eye out’ as if she’s our little sister? Heck, the two of us should probably be reporting to her.”
It was then that a list of former bosses rolled through my head like an opening graphic scene in a Marvel movie. Not one of my former female bosses treated me as if I needed protection. My male counterparts never had to extend an invitation for me to push back, speak my mind and/or stand up for myself. I didn’t need permission because I trusted that both my colleagues and the woman for whom I was working knew I was more than capable of executing the role for which I was hired.
I’m extremely grateful to my two male team members for calling out the subtle form of discrimination I had invited into our hiring discussion.
It was at that moment, my two male colleagues had to remind me that she has what it takes to succeed. All I needed to do was get out of her way.
Editor’s note: Meagan Kinmonth Bowman is the founder & CEO of Stonehenge Technology Labs, a sister company of award-winning e-commerce multiplatform service model OneStone Solutions Group. Both are based in Bentonville with additional offices in Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis. The opinions expressed are those of the author.