I am sure you encountered mansplaining way before it actually had a name. So did I. But more recently, I have repeatedly come across a new dimension of the phenomenon: when older, well-accomplished men, shortly before retirement, try to explain the world to me. Let’s call it “old-mansplaining”.
Throughout my career, I have been having mentors across age groups, genders, industries and backgrounds. The ones I consider the best mentors are those who not only share their opinions, experiences and ways of looking at the world but who also listen – actively listen. And even if they cannot solve the issues I am facing, it feels good to talk to a likeminded person, structure the problem and get a different point of view on it, which, eventually, may help overcome it.
When I started my career, I rarely encountered mansplaining. Or maybe, I was not conditioned to pay attention to it – it was before Lean In and #metoo. Probably, I did not notice it as much as I do now. Most of the time, I heard things like: “I understand what you are talking about. My daughter goes through the same at the moment.” I guess it was easier for men to relate. However, almost ten years later, the daughter dimension seems to have disappeared. Now most of the daughters are married, have kids and most of them gave up their careers – similar to what their wives did for them. I did neither of those things. Which probably feels odd for those fathers/husbands.
I consider every meeting an opportunity to learn from the other person and potentially meet a new mentor. I had the opportunity to talk to some really big players. I knew that a lot of people would kill for those meetings. I was excited. But unfortunately, it was more than just once that about 20 minutes into the conversations, I was being mansplained, or rather old-mansplained. I realized that none of them had actually paid attention to my CV – which is fine. I came to seek their advice, they do not have a lot of time, I get it. But not even during our conversations did they bother to ask me anything about what I have done, what I am currently working on or what I plan to do.
When discussing my career path and next steps, I noticed long ago that the languages I speak are a topic old-mansplainers love to take up. It is what their wives or daughters do too. Languages are a women’s thing. Women are not supposed to know anything about tech. And I love the question why I never became a language teacher or a translator if I speak so many languages. “Because I want to be the one making the deals, not the translations.”, is my answer to that.
Another incident was when one of those mansplainers said: “You really need to acquire some commercial knowledge now. You need to learn, you are so young.” This was already 45 minutes into our conversation and, again, my professional background was completely ignored. When I was younger, I had them lecture me and then left the meeting being down and doubting myself. But now, I consider myself as an equal conversation partner. No matter who is sitting in front of me. If they bullshit, I call them on it. “Well, I quit my high paying job to start a business in which I invested my own money. I built a company and a product from scratch. I did everything myself, got the right people on board and took all the risk. And for all my current projects, I do the same. Please tell me why you think I lack commercial skills.” He went silent for a few seconds and then switched the topic…
When I looked for a job a few years ago, one of the directors of a company praised his team – all of them male software engineers – and then told me: “You have to understand, what these guys are doing is not just working a few hours per day. They work 12, 16, 18 hours. And in that business, if you don’t perform, you are out.” Wow, really?! You are out if you do not perform? Really new to me, because the past years, I just floated along, shaking my – then – long hair and that is why I got ahead with my career.
All of those old-mansplainers shook my hand, smiled and wished me good luck. Their advice and comments are all interchangeable because the meetings were so similar. I think they actually do think that their opinions – and lecturing – was useful to me. Well, for me, they were an utter waste of my time. Or maybe they were not: They confirmed that the gap between my generation (often referred to as “millennials” with a negative connotation) and those who are close to reaching retirement is probably bigger than ever. Products have changed, ways of working and even whole industries. And even though we still have a long way to go in terms of equality, so have the attitudes towards women in the work place.
But most importantly, the old-mansplainers did make me appreciate the meetings with those men who do not give a f*** if you are a woman or a man – if you perform, you are in. And it again reminded me that it is essential to team up with those men and all the fellow girlbosses/fempreneurs/careerwomen – however we would like to call them – who shatter the glass ceilings.
Have you encountered old-mansplaining as well? How did you react?