Ladies, as you claim your seat at the leadership table, wear your Ruby Woo with pride

Where does it say we have to be just like men in this profession? We should have the freedom to be women

As I was speaking with a young Black officer I was mentoring, he asked me how I was mentored as a young Black female officer coming up in the ranks. Our conversation had taken a gradual shift to one much more personal to me. I gave him some excerpts, if you will, of my journey over 29 years in the profession culminating in my final position as a chief. It never ceases to amaze me when I audibly share with someone how many Black female sworn members we had in our organization and then say how many reach the rank of chief or higher, or even right below. Not many.

The table is symbolic and actual

Where the heart of my conversation focused was highlighting how women in law enforcement, or any profession for that matter, must draw upon their courage and confidence to find their voice and bring it to the table.

She slid off to a corner and quickly applied her Mac Ruby Woo lipstick. We laughed at what we do to fit in.
She slid off to a corner and quickly applied her Mac Ruby Woo lipstick. We laughed at what we do to fit in. (Getty Images)

The table is symbolic and actual. You see, it’s different for women. At those tables, when we look around the room, all we see quite often in our profession are men. Imagine if you’re a guy, and you worked where you were the only one, or two. Think about how that would feel to not see more of you. As a Black female, it’s even more uncomfortable.

From my lens, it took a long time to get past those first feelings of “Where do I fit at the table?” And that inner voice’s default setting is to turn to negative self-talk.

As I would sit at the table, I would first feel so fortunate to be there versus feeling like I deserved to be there. Then my inner thoughts would powerfully ring in my head making me feel like I shouldn’t even be in the same space and to just look confident but say little.

As I was obedient to my own weak inner thoughts, I would sit there silently until I started to relax and listen to what was actually being spoken at those tables. What I quickly realized was what these men were saying was not profound or even more different than what I was thinking silently to myself before the discussion began. In fact, what I was thinking often was a completely different perspective that would open new ways of thinking. As I earned my way to more tables of varying levels, I became confident enough to know how important my voice was to the conversation because it has value. My voice matters.

Stereotypes to contend with

I know that many men may feel the same way, but I am speaking from my perspective as a woman. We also have stereotypes to contend with that cast doubts on our leadership abilities and hinder our effectiveness.

Men have an advantage over women in this profession because of their gender. They are more easily accepted as partners whether on the beat or in special assignments, in leadership positions and as executives. Emphasis on “accepted” as initially, they don’t have to overcome being a woman. Yes, when working with men, women must compensate for that disparity in the work environment. We do this by either assimilating to the work attire; working extra hard to prove our competencies; continuing our education when many of our peers will have less or none; and minimizing the challenge of balancing home life with children and spouses so we appear to be on equal ground with our male peers, among many others.

Carry your Coach bag and wear your Ruby Woo

I recall sitting on a panel for a women in leadership conference not long ago and my peer chief saw the Coach work satchel I brought in and laughed. She said she had one just like it in the car but because we were in uniform, she didn’t want to carry it in. I asked her why not. It’s professional, classy and made for women just like us.

Where does it say we always have to be just like men in this profession? We should have the freedom to be women. At the same time, we had just eaten lunch and my lips were a bit dry, but I felt self-conscious about applying my “clear” Chapstick or gloss, so it didn’t look like I was putting on lipstick. However, on the other hand, she slid off to a corner and quickly applied her Mac Ruby Woo lipstick. We laughed at what we do to fit in.

Research has shown the disparities in how women are perceived based on our femininity or masculinity and how those measure up to standards of leadership. When we are perceived as failing to exhibit certain traditionally male leadership traits, we are considered to be incompetent, but when we do exhibit those traits, we are looked upon as unfeminine. It can be exhausting on so many levels when all you want to do is be a part of a noble profession of service and know that your contributions matter and you have value while doing the job.  

So, ladies, I say carry your Coach briefcase, put on your Ruby Woo lipstick and handle business. Claim your seat at the table, make room for others to join you and use your voice because it matters.

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