Please Let Me Wake up Cute and Stupid.
I’m a smart woman. I used to not understand that I was smart because like all good girls I was told not to brag or be a know-it-all. As I grew older I started realizing I just did process concepts faster than other people. Not bragging, just a fact.
I hate being smart. Really hate it. I wish will all my might that instead of being smart, I was cute and dumb. Being a smart woman is not an easy lot in life. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a husband and a job who understand your intelligence, respect it and listen to your ideas. But more than likely you’ll end up enmeshed in corporate America where being smart is not an asset, especially if you’re a woman. And if you’re really unlucky, married to a man who feels threatened by you and constantly suppresses you.
Intelligence is a sticky subject. If you brag about your IQ it’s considered tacky. I’ve read over and over it’s a bad idea to put your IQ or Mensa status on your resume. It looks braggadocios. Why? Isn’t it a good thing to hire smart people? Don’t all companies strive to hire super smart people to help solve their complex problems?
If I were attractive and tall and thin and wanted to work in the modeling industry, wouldn’t highlighting my ideal physical features be an asset to getting a job? Models are not told it’s bragging if they submit photographs with their application for modeling jobs. Their physical appearance is a huge (understatement) asset to their job suitability. If I were to work in a corporate job, being hired to solve problems, wouldn’t my intelligence also be an asset?
I work in IT. A field that used to be full of intellectually curious people that were free of egos. It was a field with a lot of team collaboration and equal opportunity to contribute ideas. Since the surge of IT and the influx during the dot com era, IT is less about great ideas and more about perceptions and politics.
In a career where I used to feel valued and used to be encouraged to contribute ideas, I now feel increasingly silenced. One part of me wonders if I’m a threat that must be silenced. God forbid I am shown to be more competent than my male management. The other part of me wonders if it’s just a result of the Dunning-Krueger Effect. Is my management so ignorant, they don’t know that they’re ignorant and don’t know that my ideas are actually constructive, helpful contributions?
I am constantly put down on my job. Every time I try to speak up and bring up ideas, I am shot down. I have been counseled many times about not being a “team player”. We came up with this good idea, why are you challenging us? Why can’t you just be cooperative and do what you’ve been told? Why do you assume you know better than us? The end result is in order to keep my job I have just learned to be quiet. I sit in my job on a daily basis, listen to bad ideas that won’t work, and just keep my mouth shut. Then I do what I’ve been told, do a semblance of CYA to cover myself when it all comes crashing down, and then sit back and watch their ideas fail. There is zero incentive for me to drive my points and try to innovate change.
Now to tell you this is frustrating is a gross understatement. This is possibly the hardest thing I encounter in my life. Imagine you’re in a group where everyone is talking about how the sky is green. You say “actually the sky is blue”. Everyone stares at you. Then they continue to talk about the sky being green. You speak up again “well I’ve been walking around outdoors for many years and my observations show that the sky is actually blue”. Folks argue back and are louder than you (because the louder you speak the “righter” you are). You are in the minority, you feel the group turning on you. You shut up and tune out the rest of the conversation. Later on you get called into your manager’s office. They want to council you on being so negative and uncooperative. Your lack of corporate alignment is a reason that you’re not successful in your role. You have been put on notice to start portraying a more positive attitude and cooperating with the rest of the team or maybe this job isn’t the right fit for you. You leave his office apologizing and saying “you’re right, the sky is green”.
Does that sound absurd? It does. But it’s also reality. Obviously corporate processes and ideas are much more complex than deciding what color the sky is. But when you are a smart, experienced woman the answer is very obvious. To others it’s not. Speaking up and expressing your opinions makes others perceive you as a contrarian.
I have a theory on smart women. It’s been proven that woman are multi-taskers. We are big picture people who have a grasp on all things going on around us. We can keep up with a million things going on at work, home and in our kids’ life. We’re constantly figuring out how to keep our life working and running efficiently. When women have a high-IQ this big picture multi-tasking ability translates into extreme process comprehension. We are constantly assessing how things run, is it efficient, how we can do it better. All of my female friends with a high-IQ have this ability. We see order in chaos, we can instantly see where processes are going to break down. Men with a high IQ are usually more adept at focused tasks like head’s down work solving one specific huge problem.
This high-level process assessment ability is the perfect skillset to be an executive level manager. The perfect skillset to be a Director of a large department. Constantly assessing how to run the department efficiently and keep the team productive. The executive level is the perfect place to make use of this skill. But data shows us that it is very rare for women to get to this executive level role. That’s because of blatant discrimination or not having a mentor who helps them climb the corporate ladder.
So where does this leave us? This leaves some very intelligent women working in mid-level positions in corporate America. Women who have an ingrained ability to assess department organization and efficiency, working at a level where that is not in their job scope. Women working for men who don’t have such abilities. Women working for men who don’t like to be told how they might do their job better, especially by a woman. It leaves us in jobs where no one wants to hear our good ideas.
I am sad a lot. Quite a bit more than anyone who interacts with me on a daily basis would ever know. I’m sad because I don’t feel valued. I’m sad because I have good ideas that just sit bottled up inside my head. I’m sad because no one understands what I’m capable of. I am the biggest feminist you will ever find, but I often have feelings wishing I was not as intelligent. I think that if I was just cute and stupid my life would be great. People would take care of me and value me for my physical attractiveness. And I wouldn’t feel frustrated that I was being suppressed.
I have a daughter. As a part of some regular testing her IQ was tested. She was tested with an IQ of 132. Is society going to make her feel the same?
To be continued… Part 2: How to Navigate the World as a Smart Woman