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If You Give a Woman an Inch…

I came out of my office this morning and discovered someone had parked in my Jeep, leaving just a few inches of space between my bumper and theirs.

You might not know this about me, but being from New Jersey ‘n all, parallel parking is something of a superpower of mine.

I don’t need much space and am well-versed in the fine art of a gentle game of “bumper tag”—something that has horrified my fellow Mainers up here, but it’s a common practice down in the tri-state area of NJ, NY, and CT.

But all week, as I’ve been listening to my 1:1 clients and their stories about what work feels like these days—whether they are inside a corporate job or running their own business that intersects with companies—I keep thinking about how tight things feel these days.

Tight on time.
Tight on resources.
Tight on staffing.
Tight on patience.
Tight on expectations.

Just tight. Are you feeling that?

And while I have mad skills at parking in tight spaces and I’m a big fan of Cokie Robert’s infamous quote, “Give a woman an inch and she’ll park a car in it…“, I’ve never quite seen it this tight before—which says a lot because I’ve been doing this work with C-suite leaders, senior partners, and business owners for 17 years.

I mean, I remember writing a blog post when I first started SheChanges about “this thing called Facebook…” back when I had a Nokia flip phone. Yeah, I’m that seasoned.

I’m noticing it most in the language being used in our workplaces. Here are some examples:

  • predatory behavior…is the new harassment
  • violence against women… is the new discrimination
  • safety …is the new self-care
  • abusive…is the new difficult
  • dangerous…is the new toxic
  • terrorism…is the new bullying

This is the language we often reserve to describe war, not work. And yet here we are.

So when I came out of my office this morning and saw my red Jeep impossibly smooshed between the bumpers of two big SUVs—on the cobblestones, on a hill—something in me wanted to get on my (rather obnoxious) horn and just blow it HARD until the owners of said SUVs came out. But I didn’t.

Instead, I asked for help from two women who were walking down the street.

Again, I thought of Cokie Roberts—because if you give a woman an inch she’ll park a car in it, sure, but damn if she won’t also be able to get a car out of it…especially when she works with other women.

These two women were more than happy to help me inch out of that tight space this morning, clearly loving the challenge and never doubting that it was possible, even as one of them formed a little inch indicator with her fingers as she flagged me backward and forward again and again.

Did I mention my Jeep was manual transmission? Fun times. I chuckled deeply as one of them looked at me and my gnarly tires and said, “You might have to pop up on the sidewalk…”

Women are no strangers to tight spaces. We know how to fit in the cracks of boardrooms, the senate floor, halls of higher education, and publishing houses. We know how to care for young children while also caring for aging parents—and working full-time. We know how to stretch a dollar because we’re used to not getting the whole dollar men have for the same work—and we use that dollar to feed our families, support our communities and invest in our world.

I don’t know about you, but I have a source of pride about that and I’m also really done with that. If I’m being honest, I actually have a fair amount of shame around that training—it’s taken me years to shirk the belief that subsisting crumbs is somehow noble.

One of my clients said it best not too long ago…”Why do I feel the need to keep living on the crumbs when I could allow myself to have the whole cake?” Short answer: history.

But here’s what gives me tremendous hope these days:

  • Rather than “trying to make it work”, my clients are calling the time of death on things that feel impossible (or deadly), opting out sooner than later. They are pulling themselves off projects, refusing to work with clients, and giving themselves permission to quit, move on, and look elsewhere for employment way sooner than they ever imagined. They are tapping less into internal resources (like HR) due to a lack of faith and trust in the system, and are investing mightily in their own resourcefulness.
  • Business owners are building in more time as a buffer against other people’s urgency ramping up. It’s counter-intuitive because the demand for their time, energy, and resources are high, but they are ratcheting back on their availability because they are increasingly unwilling to move at the frenetic pace of business these days. They can—and have in the past—but are no longer willing to do so at the cost of their sanity and wellbeing. In case you’re wondering, it’s proven to be a profitable business strategy—their clients are responding with respect and admiration.
  • More and more my clients are refusing to own situations and circumstances that are not theirs to own, and are getting masterful at redirecting conversations away from them (and suggestions they need to learn to work with difficult people, not take things too personally, collaborate more, communicating better…), and are plopping those topics squarely at the organization’s feet, pointing to the larger company culture, reward systems or ineffective leadership, saying things like “you might want to look at that…but this isn’t about me.” (*see my PSS below for some tips on how to redirect this conversation…)

What I try to remember in these times is how good things are often born out of tight places—daffodils, babies, diamonds, and splendid waterfalls…all it takes is a slight crack for something new to emerge.

I look outside my window and see spring has finally arrived—and a full moon will be high in the sky on Saturday night. A time of transition bathed in moonlight.

I feel a bit of crispy skin and tender vulnerability as I sent this out to you this week—maybe because it’s spring or maybe it’s because it’s risky to poke the bear of commerce and the machine of our society. And yet I hear your voice in my ear saying, preach, Lael, preach and that has kept my fingers typing today. So if any of this resonates with you under the light of this full moon in April, I’d love if you’d hit reply and let me know what landed in your bones over there—it warms my heart and kindles my fire to hear your dings in coming into my inbox each week, each and every one.

Like the women who were so gracious to help me out of my tight spot this morning, my aim is to do the same for you with these words each week—because sometimes inch work is tricky business.


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