Jedi Mind Tricks

by | May 28, 2024

Advice for my 21 year old self, and other young ladies who need help in navigating the patriarchy.

Being twice as smart and working four times as hard is necessary but insufficient.

Inhabit the space at the conference table as if you were a 6-foot 5-inch, 200+ pound football player.

Learn to distinguish between the majority idiotic but fundamentally decent men, and the truly skeevy and misogynistic. Forgive the former. Avoid the latter.

Lead with what you are good at. Self-awareness is a strength, but the impostor syndrome is highly overrated.

Interrupt loudly when you are being gaslit.

Avoid self-righteousness or performative outrage. Many men, even the good ones, have had affairs with assistants, underlings, colleagues. Fear of public shaming is unlikely to lead to the voluntary self-immolation of the patriarchy.

Hold the men you care about accountable to enlightened behavior by giving them immediate and honest feedback when they are out of line.

Give that feedback via the simple yet effective “shit sandwich”: say something positive; say the actual hard thing; say another positive thing.

Know that awful things will probably happen to you, whether directly by skeevy men or indirectly by the patriarchal system. Cry in the arms of your friends. Get therapy.

But be careful in over-identifying as a victim. Other people have had it worse. Get back on your feet and do good work.

Know that wonderful things will probably happen to you through the kindness and support of good men.

Find your tribe of women with whom you can laugh at the absurdity of the crap you have had to deal with.

If you have dinner alone with a male colleague, be prepared to manage weird vibes or deflect overt flirtations.  

Be especially careful when you are traveling. Men can sometimes feel like the boundaries of behavioral norms don’t apply in strange cities.

If you go with a male colleague to their hotel room or home, don’t be surprised when you must fend off clumsy advances.

Seek self-aware men: they’ll probably do stupid things, but they can admit it and grow.

Try not to cry at work.

Become friendly with your male boss’ wife.Introduce your boss to your husband/boyfriend/children. Tell stories often about them.

Wear whatever clothes make you feel powerful, not what you think will make you look attractive or disappear.

If you wear crop tops that show off your abs, no one will be listening to a word you say.

Get physically strong so the alpha males will know subliminally you might be able to beat them in a push up war.

If you find love at work – a glorious thing that should be celebrated – don’t think you can hide it.

Take credit for your work. If you don’t, the people who did will end up in the positions that you should have had because of your unheralded competence.

Delete apologies out of every email. Check yourself when you have the urge to apologize. Don’t worry about being impolite – you will still apologize more than your male colleagues.

If you are uncomfortable because your male colleagues are uncomfortable about the fact that you have breasts, or are pregnant, realize that their discomfort is not your problem. Sit with the discomfort, rather than dissipate it for them. It will pass.

True creative relationships transcend societal norms. Be open to them, whatever painful experiences you have had within societal norms.

Take the call from the younger woman in your field.

Know that the period in which senior men cultivate you because you are cute, smart, and make them feel successful will not last. When you are mature enough to present a challenge to excessive male egos, many will close ranks.

Rage about the injustice of the patriarchy is a totally valid emotional response.

There are few things more satisfying than a high trust, high functioning team of diverse humans working together on something hard. Rage is unhelpful in building such teams.

Frivolity in all its forms brings people together. Gossip exuberantly about celebrities, fashion, or sports if it is entertaining to you.

Women in positions of power can be awful. Don’t gossip about them. You don’t know what they had to do to themselves to make it.

Accept that while you barely managing an overwhelming burden of work and family, your male equivalents are probably going on skiing and surfing bonding trips. It’s unfair. You are making the right choice.

When your boss tells you that you are beautiful in the middle of a company-wide meeting, it’s not a compliment, it’s a signaling of his power. Don’t encourage him.

Take personal compliments graciously. Give personal compliments generously.

Create a form list of ways to say no when people want you to solve their problems. Use it reflexively. Use it also to say no to things you are interested in, to protect your time for the things you truly care about.    

Prioritize sleep and exercise. Otherwise, the stress of all this psychological warfare will burn you out.

Find your voice. Tell your story.

Be grateful for extraordinary men who mentor, support, listen to, believe in, and stand up for you, especially when you are not in the room.

Be even more grateful for the generations of women who fought for the right to have jobs and careers.

Hope that the next generation of women finds this advice irrelevant, inane, and slightly offensive.

Believe in a future – if not for ourselves then for our children – in which the psychological energy formerly expended on such things is channeled toward creative efforts. What a gloriously productive world that will be!

Filed Under: Theme of the Week

About the Author

Prior to co-founding Biomatics Capital Partners in 2016, Ms. Sunderland was director of Program Related Investments for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She led the foundation’s $1.5 billion strategic investment pool, which focused on global health, global development and education. She funded 50 investments, including 30 in health care, and built a team of 10 investment professionals. Ms. Sunderland also chaired Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s investment committee, which reviews all program-related investments. Prior to that role, she advised foundations, development finance institutions and governments on venture capital, SME financing and technical assistance programs.Ms. Sunderland holds a B.A. from Harvard University, an MBA from Wharton Business School and an M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Ms. Sunderland sits on the Board of Directors for several of Biomatics’ portfolio companies including Aledade, BlackThorn, eGenesis and Verana.

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