Attuned Leadership for Women Podcast
All-Women’s Work & Leadership Spaces: Uncovering the Pros and Cons with Mita Fitzjohn
In this episode, Mita Fitzjohn and I journey through the complex landscape of all-women work environments and leadership spaces. Together, we delve into the profound impact of these environments on women’s well-being, career progression, and self-assurance. We unravel the intricate web of factors that shape women’s success in the workplace and explore how all-women workspaces compare to mixed-gender counterparts.
Join us as we tackle topics ranging from the “Queen Bee Syndrome” and the challenges of working in male-dominated leadership realms to imposter syndrome and gender bias in the workplace. Discover the potential benefits of all-women work environments, such as fostering community, psychological safety, and a sense of belongingness. We’ll also discuss their limitations, the quest for gender equity, and the imperative need for systemic changes within organizations.
Tune in for insights into how women can position themselves for their ultimate success and fulfillment in today’s dynamic professional landscape. Don’t miss our exploration of assertiveness, power, trust in oneself, and the vital areas of courage, confidence, and competence.
Meet Mita Fitzjohn
Mita Fitzjohn is a seasoned professional with a unique approach that combines extensive experience, consulting expertise, and coaching acumen. She collaborates with organizations to empower their leaders, helping them reach their full potential in their current roles or advance to higher responsibilities. Mita’s method focuses on identifying and overcoming obstacles, driving self-discovery, and catalyzing transformation at all leadership levels. She excels in fostering an inclusive work environment, assessing cultural competence, and coaching leaders to enhance intercultural development. With over 25 years of diverse experience, including roles at W.W. Grainger, Inc., Mita is renowned for her ability to eliminate internal barriers that hinder leadership impact. Her extensive background in leadership development, coaching, and workshop facilitation spans multiple industries, benefiting over 35 companies. Mita also contributes her expertise as the Board Chair for the Grand Rapids-based non-profit organization, SowHope.
Quotes from the Episode
“There tends to be almost this ease at which women can operate in all women environments because you don’t have to explain certain things. There isn’t as much efforting involved in all-female work groups. And I think there’s a high level of collaboration, a high level of camaraderie, of support, of understanding. And it’s without being said, like it doesn’t have to be sought out. It just happens intuitively. It happens naturally. It happens organically. As a result, the focus then is on the work at hand and the work that needs to be done. And you don’t have to worry about kind of all of the other stuff that you may have to worry about in more of a mixed gender environment – in many ways, having to explain certain aspects of where you’re coming from, because you don’t feel like they’re naturally understood by the other person.” ~Mita Fitzjohn
“If someone needs skills to navigate a women’s leadership specific challenge, then I feel like a women’s-only environment is a great place to upskill because that’s a space where they’re going to be able to name their obstacle and maybe overhear something they didn’t even realize was their obstacle and hopefully get techniques and strategies for overcoming that specifically.” Dr. Crystal Frazee
[00:04:22] Building a robust network.
[00:08:12] Female role models and barriers.
[00:12:44] The queen bee syndrome.
[00:17:23] Psychological safety in female-dominant industries.
[00:21:31] Imposter syndrome and credibility.
[00:25:43] The impact of all-women work environments.
[00:33:04] Gender diversity and profitability.
[00:35:16] Psychological boundaries in all-women’s environment.
[00:39:07] Mixed gender workspaces.
[00:44:34] Benefits of all-women learning spaces.
[00:49:26] Leading an all-male team.
[00:53:43] Internalizing obstacles as women.
[00:54:26] Gender bias and equity.
[01:02:08] Is it lack of confidence or backlash?
Mentioned In This Episode:
- Episode 003: Debunking the Confidence Myth
- Episode 004: Backlash Navigation 101: The Key to Strengthening Your Confidence
- It’s Not About The Nail video
FREE Leadership Resources from Crystal:
- Get the Stress to Strength Guide, a pdf summarizing each of the techniques shared in this powerful series. It’s easy. Just email Dr. Crystal Frazee with the word ‘Guide’ in the subject line at Crystal(at)CrystalFrazee(dot)com
- Free audio training: How to Run Your Day Without It Running You
- FREE PDF Training: Stress & Overwhelm Relief Game Plan
Get updates about Crystal’s upcoming book! REVIVE: The Working Woman’s Unexpected Guide to Recovering from Burnout
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Prefer to Read? Here’s the transcript!
*Just a heads up – the provided transcript is likely to not be 100% accurate.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Have you ever wondered how all women environments impact women’s well-being, career progression, and confidence? Over the past few months, I’ve actually had various women leaders approach me and ask for my opinion about either all female work environments, or all women leadership conferences, or all women’s business or networking groups. And they’ve wanted to know how focusing on the female experience helps us in the long run. And many of them were skeptical that it will. Today, I’ve invited Mita Fitzjohn on the show to discuss the pros and cons with me. We’re going to pull this apart from all angles.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Welcome, Mita. Before we get going, I would like to tell our listeners a little bit about you. Mita is thoughtful, insightful, and a fiery advocate for women’s success. And I’m excited for you to hear her perspective on the topic. She’s had a 25-year career in corporate, held various positions of leadership across departments, and now she has a thriving consulting practice with both male and female clients. She’s worked with over 35 companies across 11 industries, and she’s also the lead facilitator of a well-respected all-women’s leadership development program. She’s got a lot of perspective on this topic. So I am really excited and I hope you are too to jump in. Mita, are you ready to get into the bottom of this?
Mita Fitzjohn I sure am. Yes. Thank you, Crystal.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Okay, before we get right into it, I want to ask the listeners to take a moment and notice your answer to this question. ” What do you believe are the most important factors influencing women’s success in the workplace?” And just notice what thoughts first come to mind when you ask yourself this question. Mita, are you comfortable launching us off by sharing your thoughts briefly on that question?
Mita Fitzjohn Absolutely, Crystal. In my observation in working with my clients, and not just my clients, but also others that I tend to observe, this is one of the things that I love to do, is just observe how people achieve success, how they, and not only achieve success, but also achieve fulfillment in that success, especially women, especially in their careers. And one of the things, I would say the top two things that have stood out to me in my observations are one, getting out of one’s own way, which can mean so many different things. And I know that in and of itself could be its own topic, And then the other piece would be, who does your network consist of? Who are the people that you know that can be your sponsor, be your champions, also be your confidants, be your teachers, be your connectors? And what I find is when those two things are working really well in concert with one another, where the person’s moving forward full steam, not getting in their own way, and they have this broad, robust network, they tend to really achieve their goals and achieve that level of success that they’re looking for.
Dr. Crystal Frazee I love that. I asked someone this question last night, just in preparation for the conversation to get their input. And they actually said, competence and competence. And we had this little debate. And I was a little bit in disagreement because the studies actually show that women have the competence, right? generally have like higher levels of education. And you know what I mean? There’s so many industries that are female dominant. There’s like a hierarchy here. There’s like layers of it. And I think on the surface, somebody might think confidence, which listeners, I went into great depth of this in episode three and four about debunking the confidence gap. I highly recommend it if you haven’t listened to that. But you know, competence and skill sets, for sure, everybody needs that in their career. But if we go beneath that, what you’re saying is fitting there, right? You need to know your own patterns and ways of relating, ways of showing up, whatever your barriers might be, where you’re getting in your own way, and have those people that are supporting you. And then I think even beneath that, there’s this, I mean, the wish list, if we had a magic wand would be that we’d actually be like free of stereotypes and bias as well. So they’re all great. They’re all so good to keep in mind. And I think something that you have spoken about that I really appreciate is when you can know how to get out of your own way, you can show up with authenticity.
Mita Fitzjohn Indeed. I heard someone say this just recently, and I love this and I think it should be on a pillow or a t-shirt. She said, authenticity has no competition. And this was a participant in one of my workshops and I thought, oh my goodness, I love that. And it’s so true because when we come from a place of authenticity, I mean, that’s when we shine and that’s when we thrive. And when we get out of our own way, we tend to be our authentic selves and we tend to. So I just want to comment on what you just said about the competence and confidence piece, because I think another layer of that is First of all, confidence comes from experience. It comes from practice. It comes from When you feel this level of I’ve done this before, I know I can do it. Well, the confidence comes with that. And of course, like you’re saying that the competence is typically already there. I think there’s the third element is courage. And when we don’t have or feel like we don’t have the confidence, even though we have the competence, that’s when we bring the courage and say, OK, I’m going to power through this thing. I’m going to be brave for 10 seconds or however long it takes. And then the confidence starts to grow once we bring that courage.
Dr. Crystal Frazee I love that addition. I think that’s really excellent. That’s like a formula, right? Competence, confidence, and courage. I like that a lot. One of the things that can resource women with the confidence and the courage is having female role models. And that’s a piece of what you said in the answer to that question is having network, right? And when there are female role models, we can see that someone else has navigated the invisible barriers we may feel. that it is possible the path has been laid.
Mita Fitzjohn Indeed, indeed. To me, generally speaking, it can be hard to see ourselves achieve certain levels of accomplishment, of success, when there isn’t someone who looks like us or who is like us that has been that model or has paid that way ahead of us, it feels like it’s a taller hill to climb. But when we have those role models, when we can say, okay, if she was able to do it, that gives me that little bit of extra whatever I needed to feel like I can do it too, because she’s like me. And I know, you know, we’re, we are talking about women and we’re talking about this from a, certainly a more of a gender binary perspective, which is fine. And I just wanted to, I guess, acknowledge that, that absolutely that we are. Yeah. And so, uh, but when I see, or when. Women in general, see women who have come before them and have been able to be that role model. and also be that support system for them that tends to make it a not as challenging effort.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Absolutely. Yes. Okay. I love this start to the conversation, but let’s go ahead. Let’s dive into what is unique about all women work environments compared to mixed gendered work environments.
Mita Fitzjohn You know, in my experience, Crystal, a couple of things that I’ve seen. One, there tends to be almost this ease at which women can operate in all women environments and all female environments because you don’t have to explain certain things. there isn’t as much efforting involved in all female work groups in a work environment. And I think there’s a high level of collaboration. There is a high level of camaraderie, of support, of understanding. And it’s without being said, like it doesn’t have to be sought out. It just happens intuitively. It happens naturally. It happens organically. And as a result, The focus then is on the work at hand and the work that needs to be done. And you don’t have to worry about kind of all of the other stuff that you may have to worry about in more of a mixed gender environment. In many ways, having to explain just certain aspects of where you’re coming from, because you don’t feel like they’re naturally or organically understood by the other person.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Mm-hmm. Yeah. It’s like the energy drain of the mental gymnastics of managing how you’re perceived. If you just have a point you want to make in a meeting, you don’t have to cognitively jump through hoops to think about how to say it. There’s less of that layer of effort, and you can just say it in an all-female environment. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Mita Fitzjohn Absolutely. That’s exactly it. It’s more productive. You don’t have to spend the time explaining yourself, you just show up and you do the work and you say what needs to be said.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Right. And also, I imagine because I’ll just admit to the listeners that I’ve never worked in an all female work environment, although I’ve been in health care for most of my career and health care leadership, and that is 78 percent female. Also, I think I mean, I’m imagining that there’s less defending your competence You can say, I think this is what we should do. And there’s less having to then back it up every time, you know, you’re in the presence of certain individuals or, you know, you’re talking about a certain topic that in an all women’s environment, the competence is is no longer necessarily something that you have to continue to communicate.
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah, I, I agree. I do think there is a almost a natural inclination to assume that the competence is there. It’s almost like it doesn’t factor in because it’s not a question mark of, are you competent enough to participate in this conversation or in this debate? It just unfolds naturally. Now, with that said, Crystal, I do want to comment on a phenomenon that has been around for a very long time and I mean, you may have covered this on one of your podcasts and let me know if I’m off base on this. And that’s the queen bee syndrome.
Dr. Crystal Frazee I haven’t come up. I haven’t talked about it, but I am aware of it. Yeah. I know there’s some controversy around it, but there are studies that validate that it does happen.
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah. And for your listeners who may not be familiar with this, this is really that there was a study done that showed when some women get to especially higher levels, executive levels, Instead of pulling women up behind her, she tends to try to suppress their opportunities. And just like a queen bee sounds, and it may show up overtly, it may show up subconsciously. I have found as I have led different women’s leadership groups, that phenomenon seems to be becoming less and less of a factor in the workplace, which is fantastic. I do think it still exists to an extent. So I don’t want to paint a picture of this Pollyanna-ish approach that an all-women environment is this, you know, Kumbaya lovely place where nothing goes wrong.
Dr. Crystal Frazee It’s… Right. Right. Yeah. I mean, we definitely, everything I try to promote for the show is data-driven. And if we look at how research works and how data is collected, we’re looking for what’s statistically significant. And that phenomenon of the queen bee has been shown to be significant enough that the data says it’s there. So sure, it’s not there all the time. A lot of this is a huge generalization. that one all-female organization is the same as another all-female organization. We know that’s not true. And so we’re looking at what are the commonalities. I appreciate you pointing that out. And, you know, hopefully the listeners are aware of that, but it’s always good to be humble in the conversation. And what you were saying, though, before the Queen Bee is about women more likely to be collaborative. What I was feeling when you were saying that is that there may be less questioning someone’s competence because the overall values or the overall goals, the overall commitment to achieving the outcome is potentially more shared because there’s less competition between individuals. where a more male-dominant leadership style is focused on the result and not necessarily how to achieve the result. The studies support that in women-dominant work environments that how they achieve the result is equally as important.
Mita Fitzjohn What I would say to that is, yes, there is more camaraderie, there’s more collaboration. And exactly to the point that you made, Crystal, that it isn’t as competitive as an environment. When it’s a team moving forward in the same direction to ultimately accomplish what they’re looking to accomplish, as opposed to this internal competitive play of who can be the top dog, if you will, or the alpha dog in the room or in the setting or in the team, that tends to show up a lot less in all female environments.
Dr. Crystal Frazee So some of the things we’ve said that may be present in mixed-gendered work environments create less psychological safety, where someone is more guarded and more inhibited in how they show up, how they say something. And I’m imagining that in all women environments, that since we’ve removed some of those invisible barriers, there may be a greater sense of psychological safety for people at all levels.
Mita Fitzjohn I think there is some truth to that, certainly, that when that element of competition or that element of, is my competence being questioned, when those things play less of a factor, it almost automatically improves or increases the level of psychological safety that exists in the environment. and it’s no longer about having to prove yourself. You can, again, going back to authenticity, you can show up as authentically yourself, in which case you bring your true self and your best self, which is where the innovation, the creativity, the intellect, everything comes to play when that’s happening. So I absolutely, that psychological safety factor goes up when those elements are not as much at play. With that said, the psychological safety factor isn’t necessarily at the at a hundred percent. I’ll just put it that way. I mean, that’s really unattainable in any environment. I do believe it’s a lot higher, though, in this type of environment.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Yeah, there’s actually some studies that I found, and I just appreciate that you say, yeah, again, like this isn’t 100%, but it’s on a scale, it’s going to be moving more in that direction. There was some research that looked at, this is Amy Deal’s work, and she looked at female dominant industries. She identified four of them, law, higher education, faith-based nonprofits, and health care. Seeing that majority, over 50% of these these industries are female, and found that there is still bias. So even when an industry is 80% female, they don’t report lower levels of gender bias. And I thought that that was so interesting, because you would think that the more female it is, the less that that would take place. And they found that was true, whether it was subtle, like a lack of acknowledgement, or really overt like just workplace harassment that it was still present. And I think that just speaks to the psychological safety and how it is potentially really different in an all women environment. And I mean, personally, I can say that you know, if I imagine the places that I’ve worked, upper leadership was always male. I was either the first female to be added to the leadership team, or I was the first and then I brought other females in. And, you know, there was just a lot of resistance to making changes to having big visions. And there was just this layer of something I had to step through before I could get collaboration. And don’t know. I feel like it would be such a privilege to work with an all-female team and potentially not have to face that. Such an energy drain to have to do that. And when we talk about imposter syndrome, there is that sense of I don’t really believe in imposter syndrome. I think it’s true. Like people feel imposter syndrome because they are imposters. If you are the only one like yourself in an environment, whether that, you know, you’re any kind of minority identity, you actually aren’t represented. And so you’re feeling as if you don’t belong because the majority is showing you that. You know, for me, I had to really navigate so much to be able to continue over a number of years to speak up and speak out and try to mobilize change for the initiatives that we all agreed on, but they weren’t moving forward because there was this like unspoken resistance. And, you know, I did feel all alone in having to deal with that. So the concept of psychological safety, of more collaboration, of more unification on the goals and the outcomes, those are all really interesting and really exciting things to think about being in a workplace and having less obstacles to those.
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah, less obstacles would be ideal because, again, when we’re working to solve problems, we’re working to grow a business, whether it’s from a revenue perspective, a profitability perspective, or the support and service, if it’s a nonprofit that they offer there, the people that they serve, to be able to do it more effectively without obstacles is ideal. It’s ideal state. And as you were explaining that, Crystal, it made me reflect on a couple of things. One, my very first leadership role that I had, I inherited a team of almost all men who were all older than me. So I inherited a team of 12 people, 11 of them male, and all 12 are older than me. And I was literally told by someone that the only reason I got the job was because I am a woman of color. I don’t think that was the way they phrased it though back then, however it was put. And I remember on the one hand, I was a little bit shocked to hear this, but mostly I was like, well, of course that’s what they’re thinking. And so when you talk about that resistance piece or imposter syndrome, yeah, I almost took it as a challenge. Like- Right, I’ll show you. I’ll show you, exactly. At the same time, it was so, prevalent, that feeling of imposter syndrome and getting that resistance from this team. And ultimately, they understood that I actually was promoted into the role because of my experience, the competence, the skills, all of the ability and ability, right? All of the things that that are expected of someone in that role. Ultimately, they got there. But it was it was it took some time for me to get comfortable in that space in addition to having to learn a new role, learn about a new team, learn how to lead that team. So you think of that added layer of obstacle that’s there. Could I have gotten to a place of success or goal accomplishment earlier in the process if I hadn’t had to deal with that on top of it. It’s also making me think of just last week I was with, actually, no, it was just this week. It’s funny how time seems to work at a different pace. Exactly. I was with an all-male group. I was doing a leadership development workshop. I didn’t realize it was going to be an all-male group, but we had some participants drop out and it ended up being an all-male group. And. I went back into that mode, even so many decades later in my career, the walls went up of, okay, now I’ve got to show up a certain way in order to earn that respect, and that I’m there for a reason, and that I’m there for the right reason, and I have something of value to offer this group. And again, it got there, it did get there, but there were definitely a couple of the participants I could tell were kind of scrutinizing what I was doing in their space. It was also a male-dominated company and industry as well. So interesting how even after all this time, there’s still an element of that feeling that comes back and again, gets in the way of productivity and speed to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
Dr. Crystal Frazee It’s almost like I wish we could just walk into the room and say, OK, guys, this is how we’re going to start. Let me display my credibility. These are the reasons why I’m here, right? And just to show your assertiveness that you know what’s happening in the room, like to call it out before you even start. I think it’s smart and I think that it’s just knowing your audience and it is an added effort. It is a continuously added effort to have to walk into all male spaces and feel like you have to do that. Yes, it is. OK, one other thing I just want to mention before we move on about all women work environments is my curiosity about whether they may offer a more flexible work style, parental leave, child care, work from home, hybrid situations. If it’s it’s an all women’s work environment may lead to being more sensitive and aware to women’s specific needs and. I find that to be so interesting because we know the studies post COVID that working hybrid increased productivity and allowing more family flexibility to meet those needs produces more retention. You know, there’s so many benefits that the studies show about allowing flexible work styles that we are moving in the right direction, but many organizations are still kind of archaic in that. And I just feel like we could learn from those environments. We should find those organizations and make them case studies.
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah, I think that would be super cool. And yes, I, too, I’ve learned to your point about these hybrid environments being more productive and having that flexibility just allows allows people to not only get their jobs done, but also be human beings, because sometimes we forget that we are all human beings at work. We’re not, you know, our work selves and then our home selves. I will say, you know, one of the factors that tends to show up quite a bit, especially with women who are mothers, is that this need to, when I’m at work, I’ve got to pretty much pretend like I’m not a mother. And then when I’m at home, I’ve got to pretty much pretend that I don’t work. And so it’s, it’s a, It’s an internal battle. It’s an internal conflict that happens. And when you don’t have to have that internal conflict, because inherently your work environment understands this and offers the flexibility to be able to be both in both settings, it just again, it makes it so much easier and it allows for those obstacles to be removed and for, it’s almost like just being able to relax, being able to relax and then ultimately bring that confidence and that competence and that courage that we talked about earlier.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Yeah, and it’s just less stressful to have to have a facade where you’re pretending the things at home aren’t bothering you at work or vice versa. Right, absolutely. Awesome, Mita. So I feel like we’ve really covered a lot of the main points of what may be happening in all women work environments that really just need to be looked at. Let’s give some credit to what’s really potentially positive about these workspaces. And maybe next, let’s take a moment and just pull out the main points so that our listeners are moving forward with the ideas we’ve covered that could possibly be catalysts for broader changes in the workplace. What are the pieces we can take from all-women work environments that we want to highlight as so important to push into mixed-gender work environments?
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah, Crystal, I think it boils down to a couple of key things. And one is, is a sense of community. And you, we talked about the psychological safety piece. So I think that is psychological safety and community, a sense of community go hand in hand. And when that can be at the highest levels that it can potentially be, that absolutely contributes to the mixed gender, being able to replicate essentially what we see in an all-female environment in a mixed gender environment. The other thing that stands out to me, and I don’t know that we use this word, I don’t think we did, but it also comes down to this, and that’s a sense of belongingness. When we can feel a sense of belongingness in any kind of environment, That is when we are encouraged to bring our authentic selves, when we feel invited and welcome to bring our authentic selves and our ideas and all of the things that come with that. all of the good stuff that comes with that. When we don’t have that sense of belongingness, then we feel like we have to make ourselves fit in in a certain way. And usually when we’re efforting to fit in, we’re not showing up as our authentic selves. And then that takes away from the gifts that we have to offer. So having that sense of community, that psychological safety all leads to this feeling of belongingness where Individuals thrive, teams thrive, organizations thrive. And it really does stem from an awareness around bias, essentially, when we think about mixed gender environments, really having an awareness around gender bias and then some sort of efforts of doing something around that when that bias shows up. And when that’s addressed, that’s when that sense of psychological safety, community, and belongingness all can come together.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Right. And it sounds like taking the benefits from all women’s work environments and putting it into mixed gendered really puts the onus on those organizations to work on their culture. It’s culture making work. It’s providing education and learning experiences for people to have that inner growth to discover their own stereotypes and biases that they may hold and then helping potentially provide some training on that and then creating a culture where if someone is feeling those imposed on them, that it’s safe for them to speak out and share about it.
Mita Fitzjohn I mean, that’s really a lot of what it boils down to. Absolutely.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Mm hmm. OK, now, do you think there’s any criticisms that we should highlight or concerns raised about all women work environments?
Mita Fitzjohn Well, we’re not saying that You can only have these things in an all women environment. And we’re also not saying that you have to strive for an all women environment in order to create this type of belongingness, psychological safety, community. I think there’s an opportunity, though, if we’re talking about criticisms to really think about what perspectives are we missing in an all women environment, just like what perspectives might be missing in an all male environment. And it’s The more diversity dimensions that you can add to any equation, gender, of course, being one of them, the better the outcome. And so to have these levels of all of these things that create, that take away the imposter syndrome, that take away the resistance, that take away the obstacles, when all of that can happen in a more diversity dimension, rich environment, all aspects, not just the tangible stuff, the stuff we can see, but also the stuff that we can’t see. It just leads to better outcomes. Yeah.
Dr. Crystal Frazee I mean, the studies on gender diversity show that organizations that have more upper level leadership that have females present typically have at least 15% more revenue. that they’re more profitable. Again, you have more diverse perspectives and things like that. What was interesting when I was preparing for the show was I couldn’t find any data on specifically like profitability of all women organizations. I could only find study after study after study showing that predominantly male organizations without women in leadership positions are less profitable. So I think we’re just like on the cusp of this, you know, there’s some gaps and there’s some things we don’t know yet. You know, what I like is that, you know, you keep bringing us back, Mita, to this bigger picture perspective. And I love what you said that we’re not really saying all women environments are where organizations need to go. That’s really unrealistic. We’re saying that there’s perspectives and culture that we want to make note of, put a pin in, that we can all learn from, that we can put into, you know, your more typical work settings. And one thing that I was thinking personally about working in an all women’s environment, the fear I would have would be about secondary stress that if there was an environment where. people are really authentic and the environment is really flexible to their life needs, that I might be aware of people’s stressors in their lives, and I might have secondary stress from that. I’m worrying about someone’s grandmother in the hospital. I’m worrying about their toddler that’s homesick. I know more about everyone’s lives, and so I’m carrying that as a burden. And so that was the one piece, you know, the limitation that I could see about an all-women’s work environment, if that piece doesn’t have psychological boundaries, you know, you have to have the boundaries for what you take home.
Mita Fitzjohn Such a great point, Crystal, because you’re right, the tendency for that to happen would certainly be greater. And then does that end up taking away from the benefits gained from the environment if now you’re adding to your stress level because of your care and concern for your team members, teammates, families, whatever it might be. The one thing I will say to that, which I was recently reminded of this idea just a couple days ago, caring versus caretaking. And so that’s where the psychological boundaries come in, because you can care about someone, but you don’t have to caretake. And you’re right there, there would probably need to be some sort of element if it doesn’t already exist, to help define the two and make sure that people aren’t falling so much into that caretaking space, because it’s not really their role and it will ultimately take away from their professional abilities to an extent.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Right. Right. I think at all levels of leadership, like a cap on the nurturance more than more than what we would find in a mixed gendered setting. And, you know, yeah. And then somehow corralling the amount that happens in an all women setting. So there’s still something we can learn from that, I think. So as we talk about mixed gendered spaces, the conversations that the women that have come to me have had are. really valid. I mean, they’re really spot on that if women are going to be experiencing more gender equity, and we’re going to see more representation of women in positions of leadership, and you know, all this that women have to have a seat at the table. And I know you have some thoughts on that. So what would you like to add?
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah, I do have thoughts on that. And because having a seat at the table means You’ve got a voice and you’ve got a certain amount of power and influence and it’s got to happen. There is no question that it has to happen in a mixed gender environment because the table consists primarily of men. And so it’s one way to think about it is when I think of female leaders in all women environments and the level of power and influence they have in that environment, do they have that same level of power and influence in a mixed gender environment. And until there are more seats at the predominantly male table, it’s not the same measure. And so, yes, there needs to be absolutely more opportunities, more seats at the male-dominated table so that it becomes a mixed-gender table, because today it’s not a mixed-gender table.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Right. And there’s something, though, about what I’ve seen in some organizations, which is add women and stir, that, oh, we’re supposed to have more women, and so let’s put women here. except nothing else has changed. And those, I would say, are less effective at the outcomes we’ve talked about. That it really is like a both and. Add women to the table and create resources to break down the invisible barriers that they’re going to face so that they can be effective in their roles. And you know, the other thing about the mixed gender spaces, there’s just more opportunity because there’s not that many all women organizations, right? I mean, the majority is mixed gender. And the thing that I’m most passionate about and the whole purpose of this podcast is to change the narrative. And if we’re really trying to change a narrative at the cultural level, it has to be in conversation with the people who need to learn what our barriers are. You know, we can’t be in a vacuum or in a bubble talking about the problems. That’s, you know, that’s the issue with any kind of social political movements of change is that we can’t be in a bubble. We have to be in direct relationship with and communication and growing with the individuals on the other side.
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah, no question. There’s a certain level of comfort that exists when there are like-minded people working together, having a debate, having a conversation, but for true change to take place, then all types of people with all thought processes or different thought processes and different mindsets need to be a part of that conversation for true change to take place. Otherwise, it’s in a bit of a vacuum, like you said. And you can feel good in the moment that some potential strides have occurred, but have they really occurred if they’re not occurring outside of that vacuum? And the reality of the situation is they’re not. And so it has to be more of a collaborative effort across from a gender perspective and really so many other perspectives as well.
Dr. Crystal Frazee And you made me think of something. I feel like maybe the two metrics that would go well together when we look at mixed gendered workspaces and are they moving towards more gender equity would be how many seats are there for women and other minority populations, but also what changes have been made to the structures and systems within that corporation, within that organization. And the two kind of have to go together. And that’s the piece that I think we’re still trying to figure out. There’s data that shows an enormous amount of money was poured into the DEI efforts. over the past several years, but that the actual change that has been created as a result of those financial investments isn’t what was expected. It’s not as much. The way those changes are taking place isn’t effective, and it’s because it’s that analogy that we said. add minorities and stir, right? That’s not effective. You actually have to have the structural and systemic changes from the inside that are actually going to change the way people show up at work. And that’s really, you know, the big question mark is how do we do that? What is that thing that we need to figure out?
Mita Fitzjohn That really is the ultimate question, Crystal. If we could figure it out in these few minutes, it would be quite an accomplishment. But you’re right. It’s got to be addressed and looked at from different angles. certainly systemically, structurally, if that piece is not addressed, then you just have some superficial change that occurs. Also, from a leadership perspective, the people who are actually leading people within organizations, where are they at with being able to provide support, resources, knowledge, awareness, acceptance, and appreciation for all team members? That when you combine that with the systemic and structural approach, that’s when you start to see real change happen. Yeah, having a seat at the table is one component of it, but if that is the only component of it, then now you’re expecting that individual who has that seat to do all of the work, and that’s nearly impossible to do. Maybe they’ll make some headway, but you’re putting a lot of burden on that one individual or those couple of individuals to create all the change when it really does need to be a bigger effort that comes from many different groups. and directions.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Mm-hmm. 100%. And we know that now. Like, we know that. We have all the DEI studies that show, yeah, that that’s not enough. Well, let’s take a second and kind of broaden out a little bit because the other thing in the conversations that I’ve been having lately are criticisms about all women’s business groups, networking groups, and leadership groups. And I find that really interesting. So these conversations are with women who would say something like, I don’t think I would go to an all-women’s leadership conference. And these are women in high levels of leadership. And personally, I mean, of course, obviously, I’m obsessed, I would go and love it. So I would just love to talk about that for a second, because I feel like there’s some, you know, some assumptions that are happening, that I would like to talk through and debunk a little bit. So I guess, yeah, if you want to start, what are your thoughts on benefits? Can we list the benefits of all-female learning spaces? Because that’s really what those are.
Mita Fitzjohn Right. That’s a good way to put it, Crystal. And I mean, I definitely have thoughts on this because I love going to an all-female leadership conference or any kind of development opportunity, a retreat, you name it. Because again, there is that immediate level of comfort. I don’t have to work to fit in. I feel that organically and naturally, and now I can focus on my development and my learning, which is what I’m there for anyway. And so I, to me that I love to be able to just show up and start whatever it is, X, Y, Z, that my objective is for being there. With that said, I think that the drawback is that really thinking about what the objective is, because if the objective is to let’s say, find opportunities, opportunities for advancement, opportunities for whatever it might be, you know, growth within a career. Let’s say, for example, if it is an all women’s development opportunity, in my opinion, I would say that there are limitations then because going back to having a seat at the table and the fact that, you know, most executive leadership boards committees, teams are primarily comprised of men still, and you’re not including that audience or you’re not getting exposed to that audience, then you’re limited in the opportunities that you have access to. And so I think that there, again, it’s what is the objective or what’s the question? What are we trying to achieve?
Dr. Crystal Frazee I think that is such a smart and insightful question to ask because I want to go back for a second to the story you shared of your own experience, where you were talking about one of your first leadership positions, you were put into a position of kind of managing an all-male team and how that was hard for you to initially kind of navigate. You know, what is the question we’re asking? If someone needs skills to do that, If someone needs skills to navigate a women’s leadership specific challenge, then I feel like a women’s only environment is a great place to upskill because that’s a space where they’re going to be able to name an obstacle and maybe overhear something they didn’t even realize was their obstacle and hopefully get techniques and strategies for overcoming that. And I have found that when it comes to women’s specific invisible barriers, that when we don’t have awareness of those things, we cannot implement change. I mean, awareness is the first step of changing your diet, your sleep patterns. I mean, you have to know what’s going on and that a change needs to happen. I feel like if the question we’re asking is how do women overcome their own internal barriers, how they’re showing up, whether they’re feeling confident in a space, how they’re navigating these barriers, then they need the specific skills. And I call those attuned leadership. It’s the specific skills to navigate those things. But you’re right. If the question is, how do I pursue more opportunity? How do I find a mentor? How do I work my way into this goal position? Then being in mixed gendered spaces might make way more sense. And so I think that is just such a brilliant way to think about it is what is the objective? What is my goal here? And then what is the environment where I can most effectively fulfill that goal? Is there anything you want to add to that?
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah, I would crystal because it made me think about it, that wouldn’t it be so cool if we could bring these things together? Because the reason I got that leadership role was because of the men that surrounded me, the men that, you know, the man that I reported to the men who, um, the man who I reached out to, to ultimately get the job. And, you know, the other people who served as my. as the people who were essentially saying, yeah, she’s the right person for this role. So super grateful for that. But my goodness, if I could have had what you just said, if someone could have worked with me to say, here’s what you’re stepping into, you’re stepping into. uh, leading an all male team and they’re all older than you. Here are the things that you’re going to run into. Here’s what you need to do. Here’s how you can navigate that. Here’s how you can quickly earn their trust and their respect and all of the things needed to then lead the team. It is kind of blowing my mind to even think about that because that was so far from. anyone’s thought process, including my own back then, it did not even occur to me that, wow, it sure would have been nice to know how to navigate all of this. It was almost like, let’s just not talk about it. Let’s not talk about the fact that literally no woman had preceded me in this role, in this market, in the history of the company. And so it was, we don’t talk about it because then it turns it into a problem if we talk about it. But we know that that’s not that’s not how reality actually works. But man, it would have been amazing to have had that.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Right. And how can those be integrated? I mean, I guess your leadership could have identified that support would be a benefit and sought that out for you and acknowledging that they are not equipped to provide it to you.
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah. So to answer your question, Crystal, I think it comes back to something we talked about a little bit ago about understanding bias, where, okay, if I know that I am putting someone into a situation where bias is most definitely going to play a factor in how they’re received in this situation, then A, I need to be comfortable in bringing that up and addressing it and then doing something about it. If that person is not comfortable, they need to be okay with the discomfort around it. Cause I think that’s part of the issue is I don’t want to talk about stuff that’s not comfortable because then it just raises the level of discomfort for everyone involved, but it’s just getting past that threshold. Once you get past that threshold and now it’s all out on the open, it no longer is this weird, awkward space. So I think that’s part of it, first of all, is saying, OK, this is not comfortable, but let’s talk about it because it exists. Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t exist. And understanding from a leadership perspective, am I as a leader equipped to help upskill this person to be able to navigate the environment they’re going into. And if I’m not, let me find the resources that can help me be a better leader of this other leader so that I am setting this person up for success.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Right. Because leadership ultimately is managing people and bringing out the best in those people. And that’s exactly, yeah, exactly what you said is doing that.
Mita Fitzjohn You’re driving results through somebody else and you’ve want to create the best environment for them to do that. And that means addressing things that may be uncomfortable to address in the workplace.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Hopefully, we’re moving in that direction. Because I feel like, I mean, and it’s happening, like, look at the number of books that are published. But the research is there, the interest is there. And the skills are there to navigate these problems. And There needs to be the obvious path where when someone has that problem, they know where to go. And those experiences are available within the community or within larger conferences or one-on-one coaching like you and I provide, whatever it is that people know the resources are there. You know, this makes me think of this. I think it’s a Saturday Night Live skit, and maybe you’ve seen it. There’s a woman with a nail in her head. She’s got a nail in her head and she’s talking about how much it hurts and it’s just so piercing and sharp and throbbing and, oh, it’s so terrible. And the man next to her is like, just take the nail out. Just take the nail out. And this is like that situation, like women tend to statistically would internalize an obstacle and make it about them. And these challenges, you being, you know, the only women in leadership in your organization, me when I was in that situation, and internalizing the responsibility that I needed to figure it out all by myself, just makes me feel like the nail. It’s the nail. It’s not as simple as just like pull the nail out. You just want to be able to say, I’m having this experience. This experience is hard for me. And somebody to go, yeah, you are having that experience. And in that video, that’s all the woman wanted was to be validated. And, you know, for the pain of the nail to be seen, And in our collective cultural experience right now, there isn’t a way to take the nail out. It’s embedded in this fabric of society. And right now, anyways, we have a long way to go before gender bias is totally removed and we’re at gender equity. But along the way, more people that can recognize it, talk about it, create safe spaces to be creative about what can be done and then filling resource gaps. That that’s amazing.
Mita Fitzjohn So that’s so funny, Crystal, because somebody literally just a couple of days ago brought up that video about the nail in the head. So I encourage your listeners to go find it out on YouTube because it is a good one. I’ll link it. I’ll link it in the show notes, folks. There you go. There you go. And so there’s two things to it, right? There’s the problem of this nail in the head and the woman wants to be understood that she has a nail in her head. The man just wants to yank the nail out of her head and saying it’s only about the nail in the head. And it just makes me think about the fact that that could go a long way if we even just opened it up and had some conversation around these things. It doesn’t have to be about how do we solve for this or how do we solve this problem or this issue? and try to rush through a solution or fast forward to some sort of solution. What if we just had conversation and say, hey, this has been my experience so far as a woman in this male dominated environment, and I’m struggling with it a bit or that woman’s leader saying, help me understand what it’s been like for you to be a woman in this male dominated environment so far. Talk to me about your experience and just even having some sort of dialogue. And the more we open up ourselves to be Good being in that space, even having the dialogue, then ultimately we will find that solution and be able to get that nail out of the head in the way that feels good for everyone involved.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Yes, that is so human, right? Just to recognize the struggle of someone else that’s working beside you. And not to pretend that it’s completely invisible just because you don’t have a way to fix it. Right. Absolutely. So it is funny. I will link to it. And hopefully everyone will think of it the next time their own personal nail metaphor shows up. And also recognizing other people’s nails. Yeah. just be with them. Validation is such an under-recognized skill, like just to be able to repeat back to somebody what they’re saying. And like you said, open the channel so that there’s a space for them to even share to begin with. And I feel like we’re going kind of full circle here now. So we started talking about women’s only spaces, highlighting some of the benefits of what that work culture can do for a woman to show up and be able to work to the highest level of her potential without facing some of these obstacles. And in my mind, I just saw like a gymnastics obstacle course. They don’t have to go through that. in order to just do their job and the benefits of that and how those can be inserted in mixed gendered spaces. And then we talked about the benefits of mixed gendered spaces and how those are essential in order for women to actually be able to move into more positions of power for us to change gender representation and to change the cultural narrative of what women at work are capable of. And then we talked about women’s-only leadership spaces, women’s-only business groups, networking groups, and how there are real benefits to those. But equally, we need to also be in mixed-gendered spaces, depending on the question you’re asking. What is the objective that you have? What’s the goal you have? And how do you fill that gap for yourself? And I feel like there’s so much in these, you know, these two pieces that goes together of women’s only workspaces and women’s only learning environments. I hope that listeners continue to think about what do they need to take from this conversation to put into their own workplaces. And before we wrap up, I’m wondering if you have any stories that you’d like to share or anything else you’d like to add to the conversation.
Mita Fitzjohn You know, there is one quick story I’d like to share, Crystal. It’s making me think of a workshop that I conducted just last week. And it was a mixed gender workshop and there was a role play. There was someone doing a bit of a skill practice. Again, I love to observe this stuff. And so I watched how the role play was unfolding and I noticed that the woman is playing a customer and there is a man she is role playing with who’s playing the salesperson. And typically what unfolds in these role plays is the customer has the power and the influence in the role play because they’re the customer. the person playing the salesperson typically feels a little bit on their heels because they want to get it right and they don’t want to mess things up. And it was reversed in this case where the person playing the customer, she seemed to be taking a backseat to the person playing the salesperson because he was He was a fairly assertive man. I don’t, I’m not going to use the word aggressive. He wasn’t aggressive. He was kind of funny, but he had a lot of energy and he had a lot of, uh, testosterone, I guess. And I saw her kind of sit back in her chair, kind of just take a smaller role and basically give into what he was saying, even when it didn’t. Logically make sense for her to do so. I could tell she just wasn’t bringing her full self and there was this kind of weird, weird dynamic going on. And it just made me think, what if she had been role playing with another woman? Would that dynamic have occurred? Would she have shown up in a different way? Because she didn’t feel like there was some sort of role she had to play. It was almost like, I’ve got to play this kind of smaller version of myself. Subdued. Yeah. The subdued version of myself because of how this is unfolding. It just something made me think of that in this moment. And, um, you know, the other thing that’s coming up for me to crystal is the fact that we’re even having this conversation because when, unless there is an all male group, that has had something called out about the fact that they’re an all male group. They’re not having these conversations. They’re not thinking about how are we showing up in this setting versus if this were a mixed gender setting again, unless they were being called out for some sort of reason that they’re not in a mixed gender setting. And so I find that to be interesting as well, that I love that we’re having this conversation, but when we talk about energy and efforting and to even have to have this conversation is interesting to me.
Dr. Crystal Frazee So Amita, you just gave me an idea. You and I can set up a conference for all male leaders to learn about the invisible barriers that women face and how to resource them and support them through it. What do you think?
Mita Fitzjohn Oh, I love it. There we go. I love it.
Dr. Crystal Frazee I love it. Oh, goodness. Yeah. And, you know, the story that you told about the woman being the customer and her response to the male in the sales position. I mean, the studies on for those of you that haven’t listened to Episode 4, the studies show that women don’t have a confidence gap. They don’t lack confidence because they don’t believe in themselves or they don’t think they can perform or fulfill the expectation. It’s actually a fear of backlash. they fear the backlash of how they’ll be treated when they show up with assertiveness and power. And that is the problem. And I’m curious if that is what she was feeling, you know, if she were to show up in her most confident, assertive self, how would this male counterpart have responded to her? And did she have a negative experience with him in the past or maybe they met for the first time? And the difference in my mind would be if she had a female partner, is that that lens would be gone and that that’s the piece that makes the difference.
Mita Fitzjohn Yeah, that’s good. Good intuitive insight on your part, Crystal, because I think you’re spot on with that, because what I took away from her, generally speaking, was that she was a badass and she knew what she was doing and she had a ton of confidence and a ton of confidence and she was killing it in her role. She was crushing it in her role. Yet this this moment in time, messed with that a bit for her and then she wasn’t coming across in that way. And so absolutely, that was my take on her. And that’s I think that’s why it probably stood out to me like it did.
Dr. Crystal Frazee I’m glad you caught it. Well, this has been such an interesting and awesome conversation and one that I’m going to keep thinking about. And I hope that we pick up the baton and keep talking about solutions to this larger cultural problem and how we’re all hearing a piece of the answer in our own personal lives. Mita, I’m so grateful that you are here and shared your experience and knowledge with us. I can’t thank you enough for saying yes to my invitation. Before we close, is there anything else you want to share about the topic?
Mita Fitzjohn Well, first of all, Crystal, thank you so much for the opportunity. It has been a pleasure spending some time with you and discussing this. And the last thing I will say is, I think of what we talked about right at the beginning of that intersection of confidence and competence and courage. And until we achieve this idea of gender equity at some point in time, we will. Until we get to that point, It’s about bringing all those three factors and just making it happen for ourselves until it gets to that point.
Dr. Crystal Frazee I love that response. Thank you. At the cultural level, the responsibility is on all of us. It takes all of us, all of the organizations. We’re all at a wall with our shovels and trying to chip it down at the same wall, all chipping it down together. And also what you’re saying is at the individual level, we have work to do. Absolutely. So between confidence, competence, and courage, how would someone know which area they should focus on?
Mita Fitzjohn That’s a good question, Crystal. And I would say, first of all, it really does boil down to trusting yourself and just tap in or check in with yourself to say, okay, If I were to think of these three elements, courage, confidence, competence, which area do I need to focus on? That answer is going to reveal itself and just go with what immediately comes up for you. In my observation, I will say oftentimes it’s the courage piece that needs to be you know, that that needs the focus or needs the attention. But but I think that each woman has that ability to tap into herself and see, hey, this is the piece for me that I want to focus on or I need to focus on. Again, to your point, until the over all cultural ecosystem finds itself there and we all play a role in that. But the piece that we know we can control that we the only piece we know we have any control over is ourselves.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Absolutely. Amen to that. How about if you take a second and share just a little bit about your leadership, development, consulting and coaching organization and where people can find you?
Mita Fitzjohn So, Crystal, I will say, first of all, I love what I do and I love waking up every day being so excited to be able to do the work that I do in this space of leadership, development, consulting and coaching. I love focusing and working with female leaders primarily, who especially who are either emerging leaders or new to leadership or new to a leadership role, or they’re new to a particular role in leadership. Maybe they’ve had some leadership experience in the past, but just being able to a lot of what we talked about to help and support women who are entering this leadership space. and getting them to be able to figure out how to navigate that space, especially if it’s new to them. I love working with that population. And maybe because that’s where I had my initial struggles in this space, that’s probably why I have a soft spot around it. So organizations that will invest in their emerging leaders and newer leaders are fantastic and are very smart to be doing so. And that is the group that I I really love to work with that. I find that I can bring the most value to. Where can people find you if they want to reach out? Sure. They can find me on LinkedIn. Just put in my name, Mita Fitzjohn. My company is called Mita Fitzjohn Leadership Consulting and Coaching. And my website is www.mitafitzjohn.com.
Dr. Crystal Frazee Awesome. And of course, we’ll link all of that in the show notes. And I guess that’s a wrap for now. Thank you so much for listening. I hope that you will subscribe to the show. Definitely rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts. It’s the best way to say thank you for the effort it takes to produce each show so that I can keep doing it for you by reaching a broader audience. Thanks again, and we’ll see you next week.