Gen Y women – out of the workplace woods?

Here’s the thing. I work with a lot of men. During phone calls, I speak with men. For meetings, I sit down with men. At networking events, more men walk in the door than women. In particular, at entrepreneurial events there are lots and lots of men, and just one or two women.

And guess what? I could care less.

Sort of. Because not immediately, but always eventually I notice there are fewer women than men in my life. And then, inevitably, I feel that it’s necessary to say something like, “Where are my women at?” I don’t know why such words fly out of my mouth because I feel comfortable around these men. They’re good guys. But there’s this undercurrent that just doesn’t feel right.

Monica O’Brien calls this casual sexism, and basically tells us to shut up about it, play by the rules and move on. Which is good advice. It’s the path that’s gotten me where I am today.

Indeed, this month’s issue of Portfolio observes that nobody wants to talk about it because most people think there’s nothing to discuss.

Generation Y women in particular are growing up believing they don’t have to worry about sexism. In college I certainly didn’t feel there were inequalities.

It was only a few months after graduation that I learned otherwise. Somehow I had finagled my way onto the Board of a local nonprofit, and the rest of the Board was comprised of men. Older men who didn’t listen to me. There was one woman who joined our meetings by teleconference; she was pregnant and bed-ridden. And those meetings always made me a little indignant.

Like when I read advice that tells me I have to get married and have babies before I’m thirty. I guess it’s smart advice, but it doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t feel that my entire life needs to be managed around having a baby, because I don’t feel that my sole purpose in life is to have a baby.

But it seems that because women are different, being built to have babies and all, that our success isn’t the same as the success of men.

For example, when one of the top alpha females in my area personally called me last week to congratulate me on a recent success, I was ecstatic. I told Hercules all about it, and he said to me, “That’s great. But you know, she’s really not all that smart.”

And I took what he fed me, because I respect Hercules and I like him a lot. But then, do you know what I did after that? Each time I told the story, I added that clause to the end. That this wonderful, well-respected woman who personally called me might not be that smart in reality. What?!

That belittles her success and it belittles mine. It’s casual sexism at its best.

This is what Gen Y women are dealing with. And it may be entirely more dangerous than outright discrimination since it seeps quietly into our minds and then out of our mouths. That sucks.

Because while we may not be marching for our rights any longer, we’re still debating whether pantsuits are unfeminine and men like Jun Loayza now think it’s charming to ask if we were “a little crazy as an undergrad.”

We’re not out of the woods yet.

Gen Y women will have to breed an entirely different form of feminism to deal with this. I don’t have the answer here, because I often feel conflicted. I genuinely enjoy being a woman. In my view, I want to wear the dresses and have the power. Only time will tell if I can have it all.

Working girl.