Only Woman and Left Out

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being excluded: Should I rise above the insult and maintain my focus on the job or should I speak up?

I work in a firm with two partners. One has continued to exclude me in luncheons, after hour affairs, and general discussions regarding the workplace. After three years, I attributed this exclusion to the fact that I was the only professional female in the office. I am known as a hard working, loyal and respected professional. Recently, another woman was hired, thankfully, and was welcomed in the partner’s circle of choice. Should I rise above the insult and maintain my focus on the job or should I speak up?

Signed, The Only Female Before Now

Dear The Only Female Before Now:

From your brief description, it is unclear to me what is your role and how your work differs from that of the new woman recently employed. I can’t understand what is your position. You say you are a professional and that you work “in a firm with two partners”; therefore, should I assume that, as is the case in a law firm, there are partners and you are an attorney but not a partner? Or by “professional” do you mean you are a legal secretary or aide that works for both partners and that one of them excludes you and that the other one doesn’t? Whatever is your response to these uncertainties, being “left out” for women is not an unusual reality in our world in spite of our theoretical national commitment to equal rights.

Recently, it been reported that women in highly appointed positions in the Obama administration felt they were excluded and that they as a group met with the President about that. Therefore, my advice cannot be a workplace-specific as I would like. But you have made it clear that you think you have proven your worth yet are not allowed to have a meaningful say in how your firm is managed and that also you are excluded socially.

You imply the “why” of this was that you were a lone woman working in the firm, but now since the new woman, employee has been “welcomed in the partner’s circle”, you can’t help but wonder if it is “you” as a person. Up to this point, apparently you have not told this one or the other partner that you feel left out and that you would like to be included. So now in view of the “inclusion” of the new woman you ask: Should I rise above the insult and maintain my focus on the job or should I speak up?

Option One: Bite your tongue; suppress the simmer within you, never allowing your resentment to be sensed. Option

Two: express your desire to be included by one or both partners. Ask why the new woman is included and you are excluded. Personally spill out your hurt for being excluded for years and firmly state you want this to change. This is not unreasonable and could prove effective, especially if you can raise the awareness of the partners of your hard work, loyalty and respect that you have earned as a professional.

Option Three: Engage the partners in a discussion of your career; your hopes, qualifications, and skills you must attain, all of which you are capable, not mentioning the inclusion of the woman newly hired.

Option Four: Approach this matter indirectly; by proposing a collaborative quality improvement approach for the firm. Ready your self before presenting this concept by composing a statement of ways to cut waste; wasted supplies, wasted energy, wasted time, and wasted brainpower; what is popularly called lean management. Generate ways to innovate and better serve the partners as internal customers and more importantly to server clients.

As a professional, you likely are aware of what other firms have done to  make better use of the contribution of professional women. Reports of such could be attached to your statement. Probably these ideas would be most acceptable if presented in private to one or the other partner as part of your conversation about your career.

Options Three and Four make most sense to me, but I wouldn’t rule out Option Two. Three years in a role of a hard working, loyal and as a respected professional, but voiceless, in the office will continue unless and until you shape the way you want to be viewed differently; as one who has earned her right to be heard.

Of course from this distance there could be factors that I can’t know that trap you in your current role. Look in the mirror and see yourself, as you want to be seen. If you need more professional development, get it. If the partners in your firm are not supportive in your career hopes and plans, look elsewhere.Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS is my way of saying others see us as we allow them to and they regard us the way we want to be seen when we engage them  as deserving to be heard.

William Gorden