As a female accountant, you have an impressive level of intelligence, whether you realize it or want to admit it. It doesn’t matter how challenging school may have been for you; if you are in any area of accounting, you are a smart woman.
Now be honest – how difficult is it to admit or say out loud that you are a smart woman? Does it feel wrong to admit it? Does it feel boastful? Does it feel like a lie? Do you ever feel like you have to “dumb it down”? Are you afraid of being judged for being smart?
If you think about it, it wasn’t too long ago that women didn’t even have the right to be educated in anything other than homemaking skills, which is still the case in many countries. Our education was based on how to keep a proper home for our husband and children.
So if we’ve made such strides over the centuries with women’s rights and breaking so many barriers and glass ceilings, why is it so difficult for smart women to own the fact that they’re smart? And even if you do acknowledge your intelligence, why does that still not preclude you from dealing with other problems like people’s distaste for smart women in many situations?
When it comes to women’s intelligence, a study from Edinburgh University revealed that while, intelligence-wise, there are twice as many competitive, driven men as women in the highest 2% of their class, there were also twice as many in the lowest 2%, with women much more likely to sustain a high academic standard throughout. In this study, women emerged overall as the smarter sex.
So why can a man and a woman say the same intelligent thing, yet the woman is ignored or ostracized? Why is it often seen as a threat when a smart woman just naturally shows how smart she is?
Several years ago, my next-door neighbor asked my ex-husband what I did for a living. When my ex-husband said I was a CPA, the neighbor replied, “Oh, you married a smart one.” At the time, I was insulted by his comment, especially the use of the word “one.”
I remember equating it to picking fruit at the market – oh look, I found a ripe one. It was as if I was a possession of my ex-husband’s, and out of all the inventory available, he chose a smart one.
I’ve since realized that this neighbor was only expressing a common ignorance regarding women. His own wife was a stay-at-home mother, and just like most people, his experience was the lens he viewed the world and me.
Unfortunately, there continues to be many biases that create smart women problems, but hopefully, after listening to this podcast, you’ll have a different perspective.
This week I’m going to discuss some smart women problems and some solutions to those problems.
Smart women problems
I have to admit that when that neighbor told my ex-husband he married a “smart one,” part of me wanted to put the neighbor in his place. I wanted to pull him aside and explain that I wasn’t a “smart one” I was a smart woman, but that was just a temporary, knee-jerk reaction at the time.
I had dealt with many of the cons of being smart for so long that I was just as guilty as my neighbor for interpreting his off-hand comment as an insult as he was for being a bit archaic. We both had our preconceived notions about smart women.
If you think about it, from the time we’re little girls, we’re often put into gender boxes. We are encouraged to do certain things and discouraged from doing others because of our biological sex.
This set of different behavioral rules for the two sexes naturally has a number of consequences. One is the fact that people feel insulted or threatened if someone appears to resist or question an acceptable stereotype.
The more people believe you should or shouldn’t be a certain way, the easier it is for them to have negative opinions and biases toward you without even knowing you. The question of disliking smart women then becomes a question of whether saying intelligent things is womanly under current cultural norms.
Again, if a man and a woman said the same intelligent thing, the underlying negative perception of the woman often clouds people’s acceptance of the thing that was said. Because she’s smart, she’s already challenging people’s unconscious perceptions of men and women.
The reason this happens is because of our brains and the concept of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the unpleasant experience of holding two incompatible ideas, where your brain is conflicted because of the tug-of-war between two opposing beliefs.
For example, if a woman says something smart, cognitive dissonance will make it challenging for others who haven’t questioned their beliefs about smart women. The conflict is typically resolved by marginalizing the woman or denying that she said something smart.
In grammar school, I had a female teacher who recognized my intelligence and fostered it. She let me go beyond what she was teaching my classmates, and when she gave me an A++ on a paper I had written on the human body, she was incredibly proud and showed my work to the rest of the grade.
She thought she was doing me a favor, but the opposite happened. Not only did my girlfriends start treating me differently, but the boys also did. It was as if being smart was a threat to every one of my peers.
Interestingly, the smartest boy in the class wasn’t treated any differently; only I was. The message I got back then was being smart might be a problem, especially socially.
I remember being in a social situation once and gently pointing out someone’s incorrect assumption about something. This person said out loud to the group, “Here goes Dawn, thinking she’s smarter than everyone else.”
I remember feeling mortified at the time and wanting to play small. I know for a fact that if a man in the group had said the same thing, this person would not have had the same reaction to what was said.
Another problem for smart women is having to monitor ourselves, especially regarding our choice of words. If we use words others don’t commonly use, we’re considered a “know-it-all.”
You also may find it difficult to relate to other women’s interests, making it challenging to find like-minded friends. You might find yourself “going along to get along,” but it can also be draining to be around other women who might not share your same interests or who are threatened by your intelligence.
If that is an issue, it can take a lot of energy to prove that you’re part of the tribe, even if you don’t necessarily feel like it. It can make female friendships outside of work a little awkward.
Another common problem for smart women is romantic relationships. It often takes a secure person to be in a relationship with a smart woman, not making her feel wrong but instead honoring and encouraging the fact that she is intelligent.
Another interesting problem for smart women is that we can become easily bored with mundane tasks. The catch-22 is that women are typically the ones, culturally speaking, to be saddled with repetitive chores like administrative work or housework and then expected to be content with the role.
One of the smart woman issues I’ve come up against is the decision to be a working mom. Smart women are typically drawn to working outside the home, making the struggle with working mom guilt even more of an issue.
As for being an accountant, although we work in a field that values intelligence, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t intimidated by our intelligence. Often it can become a balancing act between not coming off as a narcissist and owning the fact that you are a smart woman.
Although we’ve broken many glass ceilings, we still have to be aware of people's normal biases toward smart women. So now that I’ve discussed some of the smart women problems let’s talk about how to deal with them.
Some solutions to smart women problems
First let me share that my children can attest to my obsession with the TV show, Gilmore Girls. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s about a young woman, Lorelai Gilmore, who gets pregnant at 16, raises a daughter on her own, and as the 7-year TV series begins, that daughter is now 16 and trying to figure out her place in the world.
The daughter, Rory, is highly intelligent and is eventually sent to a private school to foster her intelligence and love of knowledge. The appeal of the show for myself and many millions of fans is that the character of Rory was written as the antithesis of a “typical” teenage girl on television at the time.
She was well-read, enjoyed school, didn’t care as much about social norms, and would bring a book wherever she went, just in case. The character of Rory made it cool for girls to be smart.
The show went off the air in 2007, but since then, there have been many more shows depicting strong, intelligent, non-apologetically smart female characters and heroines. Thankfully, over the years, it’s become much more mainstream for girls and women to be smart, helping to change that cognitive bias many have about smart women.
So the first solution to smart women problems is to have more access to smart women, especially in forms of entertainment like movies and television. The smarter the female role models are, the easier it will be for young girls to be proud to be smart women.
The next solution is to learn how to let people be wrong about you. I think smart women tend to hide their intelligence for fear of being negatively judged by others, but the human brain is hardwired to have negative judgments, so the sooner you let it be okay, the easier it will be to not judge others or yourself.
Let’s face it, owning the fact that you are a smart woman could mean that someone somewhere will consider you a threat, but that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own insecurities. Just because other people might feel threatened doesn’t mean you should dim your bright light.
When it comes to having female friendships, I have found that that just takes trial and error, being willing to fully be yourself, and finding similar interests. Since I’ve been an introvert my whole life, I’ve never needed a lot of friends, but the few I have tend to be the women I work with or those outside of work that share a similar interest, like reading or self-growth.
As far as romantic relationships go, this is where I have found it important to be with someone as smart as you. It might take some time and effort, but I promise you, it’s worth it.
My husband and I met 16 years ago on Match.com, and after having many conversations with many different men, I realized how important and attractive it was to connect with someone who I could have an intelligent, witty, and sharp conversation with. So my advice – don’t settle if you’re a smart woman; find a compatible smart man.
If you become easily bored, especially with mundane tasks, I have found that always having something to learn or to teach others has been incredibly gratifying. Doing the research and writing the show notes for this podcast, writing my book, coaching clients, learning how to market my coaching business, teaching webinars, and working with the CPA MOMS franchisees have helped balance those mundane tasks that accountant moms can’t avoid.
As far as the issue with wanting to work outside the home and having working mom guilt, I’ve done an entire episode on mom guilt, but that is something that can be easily worked on when you learn how to manage your mind. The feeling of guilt never comes from the fact that you’re a working mom; it comes from the sentences in your brain that argue with the fact that you’re a working mom. Those sentences are changeable, allowing you to feel less guilt.
Lastly, we need to own the fact that we are smart women and support each other instead of judging each other. The next time you meet, listen to or read about a smart woman, pause and celebrate her and you.
Never be ashamed to be a smart woman because that’s what the world needs – smart women doing smart things.
The more people believe you should or shouldn’t be a certain way, the easier it is for them to have negative opinions and biases toward you without even knowing you.
Although we’ve broken many glass ceilings, we still have to be aware of people's normal biases toward smart women.