Hannah Harshe: College women, let's make a pact

Wednesday, May 9, 2018 - 7:01pm

I’m standing in the doorway of Shannon’s room. She’s sitting on her bed, her laptop on her lap with an episode of “New Girl” paused on the screen. We’re yelling at each other, over each other, really. Our voices are growing increasingly loud and angry, and people walking down the street outside our apartment are probably wondering whether we’re safe.

For the record, yes, we’re safe, but I’m pissed and so is she. We’re arguing over what is probably the most trivial thing a person could possibly argue over and we know it, but we also both know that we’re right, so the conversation isn’t going to end anytime soon. Shannon mentions most girls are pretty and very few girls are average-looking. I counter that according to the definition of the word “average,” most girls are average-looking, even if that means that average-looking girls are also pretty. From there, we begin arguing. I pull out my laptop to look up the dictionary definition of “average,” we’re holding whiteboards and plotting what we believe are the distributions of various levels of attractiveness. I thought it’s definitely a bell curve, but Shannon’s adamant that it’s skewed to the left, and, yep, we’re yelling.

After about 15 minutes of arguing, I walk out of the room and say she’s annoying me and I don’t want to talk to her anymore. She asks if I want to go to Starbucks. I say yes, and we put on our shoes and go. Neither of us ever concedes or apologizes, but later that afternoon, Shannon says to me, “I’m thankful that I have a roommate I can get in yelling matches with.”

Unfortunately, not everyone is so appreciative of situations in which women loudly voice their opinions. In her study “Who Takes the Floor and Why,” Yale researcher Victoria L. Brescoll determined that when a male CEO speaks more often than his peers, professional men and women consider him to be 10 percent more competent than his peers. However, when a female CEO speaks more often than her peers, she’s perceived to be 14 percent less competent than her peers.

Seemingly confirming this viewpoint, in a board meeting for Uber last June, Arianna Huffington spoke of the importance of increasing the number of women on the board, saying when more women join, it shows other women that they can feel comfortable joining. “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking,” David Bonderman, who was on the board at the time, infamously replied. He resigned after receiving pushback for this comment.

This is a pervasive attitude in the workplace: When men talk a lot it’s because they’re smart, but when women talk a lot it’s simply because they’re opinionated. Further, anger is typically seen as a positive quality in a man but a negative quality in a woman. Brescoll elaborates on this in a New York Times article, stating, “Men are less often punished for (showing anger), but they are actually seen as more deserving of power, status and higher salaries. By contrast, women who show even mild forms of anger are often viewed as emotionally ‘out of control’ and are less likely to be hired and advanced to higher positions within their firms.”

So how do people respond to women who have strong opinions and anger? They interrupt these women. A study found that male Supreme Court justices interrupt their female colleagues more, ignore their ideas and ultimately hinder them from moving up in the workplace.

In a few short years, Shannon and I will be moving out of our apartment at the University of Michigan and starting our careers. The days of our yelling matches will be behind us and we’ll no longer stand in her bedroom growing genuinely angry, desperate to prove who’s right. We’ll still be the same people, just as adamant and bold and strong in our beliefs as we are now, but we’ll hold those qualities in our workplaces instead. If we were men, this would be perceived as a good thing; we’d be seen as smart and confident. But because we happen to be women, we’ll likely be punished for those qualities.

So, I guess, this is my formal promise: In two years, or five years or 10 years or however long it takes me to get a real job, I will not give up the tenacity that keeps me standing in Shannon’s bedroom, determined to prove that I’m right. Never in a million years would I let Shannon talk over me or let her imply my opinions are wrong. When I’m in the workplace, I refuse to give up that adamant, determined spirit. I hope Shannon doesn’t give up hers either.

It’s easier said than done, I’m sure. Women face so much backlash for being angry and opinionated, and retaining those qualities into the workplace puts your career at risk and is not realistic for everyone who needs to keep their job. But I know who I am: I’m the girl who can engage random strangers in debates about Michigan football, and I’m the girl who always finds herself in a yelling match with Shannon over something as shallow as what constitutes an “average-looking girl.” If I were a man, this confidence would be a career asset. To my fellow college women, let’s make a pact: When we enter the workplace, let’s refuse to let anyone turn our bold spirits into liabilities.