Women: Up Down and Around

I have been watching the “women’s issue” for many years. Today Malachi shared this tweet with me. It links to an Inc article, The Face of Success, Part 2: Where are all the Female Tech Geniuses?

My thoughts are too lengthy for a simple tweet. The most important of which I never see spoken of. There are several movements or methods for women today. The old guard is the one most of us are familiar with. It is rooted in social justice – where do women not have access and let’s count them and fight to change the numbers by bringing visibility and accountability on the issue. This is a movement about access and choice – women ought to have access to just about anything men have access to – and then have a choice about whether to participate – as women. What this usually looks like is women parading around as men, taking on male traits to succeed on masculine terms in a male-dominated space. Back when this movement had its peak women even wore shoulder pads to physically appear more masculine. It was an important effort, and today many of us, of the female kind, stand on the shoulders of giants who pushed for this form of equality. This acting-as-if we are men is part of the insideous practice called “covering” which many minorities are forced to practice in order to operate with those in power. (Thanks to Kate Ettinger for pointing me to the book on Covering.) Some might argue that all of us perform covering to some degree.

But there is another form of feminism in the generation of women that followed. I think I fit in this group. For us, we were raised with the idea that we could choose any career. Few of us were told (and if we were told, we didn’t take seriously) that we couldn’t do the career of our choice because of the simple biological fact that we were women. We assumed access. Many of us are ambidextrous. Well, make that androgynous. We know how to demonstrate traditionally masculine traits quite well, but we also could use our more feminine traits. Most importantly, few of us wanted to be the “first woman” to do something. We wanted to be successful on our own terms and as individuals with specific skills and abilities. We didn’t want preferential treatment for being a woman.

One woman I spoke with that fits this space is a journalist. She said she didn’t want to be a “female journalist” she wanted to be a “journalist” who happened to be female. We don’t want to use the “woman” card to gain special access. Tokenism. While tokenism gains some ground for the cause of social justice, it hardly feels rewarding to win on grounds that shouldn’t be considered to begin with. Tokenism means it is still about whether you are a man or a woman, and we will toss in some people by choosing them based on their sex (or race, etc). It isn’t about the ability of women to compete – regardless of their sex, and succeed because sex is not a filter. In fact, it highlights sex as a filter.

Women in this group don’t want to attend “women’s groups” or have events or panels for, by, or about women’s issues. We go so far as to nearly deny the biological reality that we are women. Make it a non-issue. Ignore it. Shhhhhh.

I have a sense that there is a younger generation that is moving beyond this urge to silence the sex issue. These women are embracing their experience as women and realizing that being a woman brings strength and ability that is crucial in today’s world. I have a few books on my shelf that point to this new embracing of the value of women. The first one I read, many years ago, was entitled, “How to Succeed in Business without a Penis: Secrets and Strategies for the Working Woman.” Another is “Web of Inclusion.” I would love to know your favorites books and articles in this space.

There are many things I admire about this emerging movement for women – mostly millennials – as they begin to solve some of the complications of past movements for women. I also see some ways there are unintended consequences. The value judgment is mine, and I own it. Sexual and romantic relationships for young women seem to have been adversely impacted. Women’s image of body and self hardly seems to have improved. That all seems like a lengthy topic in itself. But let’s get back to women in business for now, where progress has clearly been made.

As the article in Inc. mentions, women by the numbers are successful in achieving equality (or surpassing it) in education. And, where women are present, there can be “higher ROI” and better “capital efficiency” and so on:

“An analysis performed by the Kauffman Foundation showed that women are actually more capital-efficient than men. Babson’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found  that women-led high-tech startups have lower failure rates than those led by men. Other research has shown that venture-backed companies run by women have annual revenues 12 percent higher than those run by men, and that organizations that are the most inclusive of women in top management positions achieve a 35% higher return on equity and 34% higher total return to shareholders.”

The women who make it past the sexist barriers and glass ceilings can be even better at business than men. As these stats become known, having a woman involved in your business becomes a business strategy instead of a moral imperative. Will the new tokenism be less moral and more pragmatic? I hope so.

For now the women’s movement feels more complicated given that a large segment of women don’t want to have their bodies sexed and their identity tied up in the sex of that body.

What can we do? Let’s move toward more integration. At SXSW last year I was on the only panel that was all women that was not at all about being a woman. Let’s acknowledge that women have an expertise and an identity beyond that of their sexed body. Include women not as tokens (perceived as a deficit attached to a moral obligation) and instead include women because they are capable, perceptive, agile, hardworking, insightful, or whatever traits are needed in these uncertain times. See us for our strengths and not the “lack” of a penis.

For event organizers, put women on panels – not because you want to have a good ratio of men to women but – because you want to have a valuable perspective on a new approach to success. We enter the Relationship Economy, as Jerry Michalski calls it, and women, in general, navigate the world of relationship with profound perception and intuitive grace, achieving very useful business results. If you want to be successful in todays uncertain world, put women on your team, your board, or your panel.

ps. as for you women – the few – that demonstrate the seemingly female traits of backstabbing, destruction and gossip – who want to masquerade as men by denigrating other women, your selfishness undermines the work we all do as humans to evolve. It makes you appear short-sighted and  shallow, and alienates you from authentic connection, trust, and alliance. We are angry with you, collectively. We will forgive you, but please go get some therapy! If you don’t know what I mean, take a look at this garbage: http://www.forbes.com/sites/susannahbreslin/2011/07/25/why-women-shouldnt-go-to-tech-conferences/

Note: I speak here only about women…some issue may overlap with race and other “minority” positions. However, I can’t speak to those and trust to those whose experience of those movements is more informed or more personal. I do have a rant I can write later on how we each have some form of privilege or power, and the social justice practice of focusing on where we lack power is a self-destructive way of navigating the world we share. If each of us stand in a multi-faceted identity and acknowledge our power and lack thereof, we develop sympathy and alliance with others.