A Woman in a Patriarchal Society

A Day in the Life

By: Salma Madi

When I received my acceptance letter to be a child protection and advocacy intern at UNICEF Egypt this past May, I was completely and utterly over the moon. Not only was I blessed to have the opportunity of working with Syrian refugees and Egyptian Street children, but the first through that ran through my head was: finally, a non-Egyptian organization that will treat me based on my intelligence and personal value instead of my gender. Shouldn’t it be a concern that my excitement was based on an opportunity to finally be treated equally? Isn’t that something I should already be granted and feel in my everyday life? A wave of conflicting thoughts clouded my mind, but I soon came to the realization that based on where I’ve been raised and the society I associate myself with, gender equality is a large and pressing issue that’s seldom spoken about and considered highly taboo to discuss.

Growing up female in a strongly conservative, patriarchal society in Egypt has led me to see my rights as a rare privilege instead of a fundamental necessity. It gets to the point where if someone in the society I interact with treats me with the same respect as they would towards a man, I’m left surprised and somewhat confused at this rare occurrence. I put all of those negative thoughts and experiences behind me, because UNICEF was going to be different. I was finally going to be treated as an equal.

I walked into the office on my first day nervous and excited, but excited for the new journey I was embarking on. First, I had a debrief with the director of the program who was a middle aged male. Typical, I thought to myself. He greeted me with a warm welcome, proceeded to inform me that I was the only female intern and as a result I’d be working with a female supervisor. “So you’re more comfortable”, he said to me. I was somewhat confused and taken aback at what I’d just heard but had no choice other than to listen to what I was told. Ironically, my supervisor was the only female head in the entire department, and based on her past experiences she was an extremely hardworking and ambitious woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I worked with her for the entire five weeks I spent at UNICEF, and observed how her tone of voice and the way she carried herself changed depending on the gender of who she was interacting with. When working with her male counterparts, it was as if she felt the need to prove herself or prove her worth. She had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously solely due to the body parts she was born with. Additionally, I was periodically asked if I needed help or assistance by my male supervisors, while the male interns were left to figure things out by themselves, or take initiative to ask for help if they needed it (God forbid they were to sacrifice their masculinity and ask for assistance). In a sense, I felt that I was looked upon as fragile, and at times as a damsel in distress simply because I’m a female. It’s interesting to see how much of an impact the society we live in has on way people interact with each other in the workplace.

"In a sense, I felt that I was looked upon as fragile, and at times as a damsel in distress simply because I’m a female."

As a strong advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, I had high hopes for UNICEF in terms of upholding gender equality since it’s an international organization and part of the United Nations. I thought I would finally be treated based on what’s inside my head as opposed to my body. However, it dawned on me that no matter where you are in the world and no matter how progressive the society is, unfortunately there will always be an element of inequality in the workplace due to the way humanity has evolved globally. It’s an issue that we must continue to actively battle on a daily basis until we start seeing change. On another note, although Hillary Clinton wasn’t successfully able to break the glass ceiling and win the election despite her high qualifications and history in foreign service, that doesn’t mean we should lose hope in any way. Rarely is it that we achieve success the first time we try to incite change as a society. It just means we should stand back up and fight harder for however many more attempts it takes till we get it right. Growing up, my mother always told me that nothing good in life ever comes easy, and as I’ve acquired more life experience and faced countless obstacles, it’s become a lifestyle I live by.


How to be Taken Seriously, as a Young Female Leader

By Ana Claire Mancia

I am nineteen years old and manage a swim lesson company in Los Angeles. For the past several years, I have helped develop the company and watched it grow into a large organization with thousands of clients. I currently handle many of the company’s operations, especially in the summer when our work schedule is extremely busy. We have about 10 employees who teach swim lessons, and I supervise our program.

Learning to be taken seriously as a young female is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned. I remember attending my first business conference, to network and speak about the company. I didn’t entirely know what “business casual attire” meant at 17 years old, since our company’s uniform was a swimsuit. I put on a regular, colorful dress and drove to the conference, not expecting that I would be the only person under 25 and clearly not dressed for the occasion!

When I spoke about our organization to a large room of people, I knew they viewed me as a young, inexperienced kid who was in the wrong place. It was definitely a cringe-worthy morning. What bothered me the most however, was the amount of professional men who sat next to me afterward and said things like:

“You’re very pretty.”

“How old are you?”

“Do you actually run a swim company?”

“Are you single?”

I left the conference embarrassed and angry that I hadn’t been taken seriously. Meanwhile, I was watching my company expand and our revenue nearly doubling each year. I quickly learned from that experience, and vowed to always be taken seriously.

Three years later, I know that as a young female, you must always be 10 steps ahead of everyone else. When people question you, you must be ready to prove how knowledgeable you are and convince them to trust you. You must exude capability and confidence, until people actually believe you.

"You must always be 10 steps ahead of everyone else."

Unfortunately, there is very little room for mistake in my role. If I do something incorrectly, it is much harder to recover from it. I have learned to be twice as careful as a man would be, to always make sure there are zero errors.

Our staff respects me because I value them and treat them with respect in return. I try very hard to always treat them as my equals, by taking their suggestions into account and giving them freedom and flexibility in their teaching style. I see my role as just making sure each day runs smoothly, because I trust them to deliver good service to our clients and do their job correctly. Our mutual trust has been crucial in terms of maintaining a strong relationship.

My job has gotten significantly easier as time goes on. Our clients and partners have learned to take me seriously and respect me. The amount of times my authority is questioned has drastically decreased.

This shift in attitude occurred because I am now extremely conscious of how I present myself, and how I speak. As a young female in charge, it is important to know every detail of your company because skeptics will almost certainly quiz you. They are searching for proof that you are capable of being a professional leader. Learning to shut them down has been thrilling.

"I am now extremely conscious of how I present myself, and how I speak."

I am proud of how much the company has grown, over the past five years. In the summer, I usually work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, because there are so many clients and not enough employees. We continuously need to hire more staff, and obtain more pool space. After teaching swim lessons, I am at my computer for hours, processing invoices, sending emails, calling clients, booking people, and creating schedules. Though this sounds like a nightmare, I sincerely enjoy it because we have taught thousands of children to swim in LA County. Drowning is still the leading cause of death for children in California.

In conclusion, young female leaders must always be ahead of the game. With the odds stacked against us, we are forced to overcome distrust, skepticism, objectification, and disrespectful treatment. I pushed through it by becoming as educated as possible. I am not afraid to show my authority, and prove my ability to operate a company. I pay attention to every detail, and search for errors. The company requires an enormous investment of my time – but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.


Dress Profesh

Ladies, we all know how hard it can be to dress well in the workplace and still be taken seriously. A woman has to be conscious of so many different factors, that shopping for professional clothes can be discouraging. Our goal is not to give women more rules, because we have enough rules already. This is just meant to be a guide on how to be your best self and succeed in your professional life. We are here to give you 8 empowering rules to abide by when dressing profesh.

For more tips on how to dress to impress, check out Berkeley Women in Business on Pinterest!