How can I get my family to express interest in my work and understand that it’s not just my husband who has an exciting job and meaningful career?

Elaine Varelas guides on tips and techniques for steering the conversation to talk to family members about your career.

Q:  I am a professional woman and I’ve been in the same industry for the past 25 years. I recently attended a family function and was incredibly frustrated that so many of our relatives asked my husband about HIS job, but not mine.  When this occurs in the future, how can I best steer the conversation to talk about MY job and MY successes at work? I’m not an attention hog, but a bit of recognition would be fun!

A: Unfortunately, sexism in the workplace and in family situations continues to exist.  And family and friends seem to be perpetuating the chauvinistic view that only men are focused on their careers and the exciting things happening in that career.  Having said that, most people may ask the question about a person’s job and not really care what the answer is.  What it does do is give them the opportunity to talk about their own work, which is what they really want to do.

Figure out who you would like to talk about your work and why.  If you want to talk to your favorite Aunt about your work because they had an exciting career where you believe you could learn something from them, gain insight from them, and are eager to share a challenge or success with them, then you need to make it a point to say to them, “I really want to talk about my work with you.”  It may not feel comfortable as people grope for the limelight in family functions, especially during the holidays, but if what you really want is a conversation then I encourage you to be very forthcoming about your desire to have a conversation with them, and why. 

If part of what you are looking for is some level of interest in your professional life, sadly the best person to help relatives follow that lead is your spouse or partner.  When someone asks him or her what is going on in their world of work, they can answer the question and then deflect the conversation to you. “Wait until you hear what my wife is involved with right now at work.” Or, “I’m so excited about what she’s working on right now”.  Frequently, those conversations are just space holders and are simply a way for the other person to transition to talk about themselves, or their child, spouse, or partner.  So be selective about where you use this tool.

And to send a message to friends and family, ensure that you lead the conversation to the female spouse or partner by asking about their career right after asking “How are your kids?” and way before “How is your garden club?”, especially when you recognize that this woman’s career is especially important to her.

Many women have commented that when they are with female friends who don’t work outside the home they also may not ask about your work. There may be a host of reasons as to why they don’t pursue that conversation.  It may because they don’t understand your work, and don’t really want to.  And you don’t need to bore people with details that aren’t vital, but perhaps you’d like them to share in a success or provide support in a disappointment.  Take the time to let them know that.  And reciprocate. If you hate gardening or politics or energy healing, but they are highly invested, then ask – and pay attention to answers!

Create several leading statements for yourself.  “Uncle Andrew , I’d really like to tell you about what it is happening at my office.”  Or, “Aunt Mary, I’m really excited about the fact that at work, I was able to meet so and so”.  Talk about things that are relatable to these individuals as this will help them understand how you spend so many of your waking hours.

When you’re asked about your husband or spouse’s career or job, you can say “It’s so nice of you to ask and I’m sure he (or she) would love to tell you.  Let me tell you about what I’m doing.”  We (especially women) are often trained to be polite.  We are trained to be self-effacing.  And it gets to a point where we’re done.  Before it gets to that point, get rid of the self-efficacy and take the time to let people know that you are doing well in your career.  That you are happy in your career.  That you have challenges in your career.  Whatever it might be where you get to own some of the air in the room and that it’s not entirely male dominated. 

Consider that being a helpmate to your partner or spouse and helping your family and friends recognize that you are a person unto yourself is important.  If you are too shy, consider yourself doing a favor to girls who are growing up and need the encouragement to talk about what is important in their lives.


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