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Opinion Editorials

How some women’s conferences reinforce systemic workplace sexism

(EDITORIAL) They’re not designed to put women down, but many women’s conferences actually disempower swarms of women in the workplace.

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The following is an editorial response to “The insulting nature of well-meaning but misguided events for women in business“:

So, you’ve been invited to attend a “women in business” conference. The invitation is probably pink and black or pink and gold. It may or may not have a glitter element. The event promises breakout sessions on leaning in, building confidence, and a champagne reception. A slew of female vendors will be there pushing beauty products that promise empowerment. You’ll probably even walk away with a swag bag containing a rose-gold water bottle and nail polish.

Still thinking about going? Think again. This event isn’t about empowerment, it’s not about female bonding and it sure as hell isn’t going to build your self-esteem. It’s systemic workplace sexism and it’s got to end.

I spent 2017 and 2018 working in a tech company in Silicon Valley in a male-dominated workplace.

During that time, I had a female manager go so far as to suggest that I become more feminine. During our biweekly one-on-one meeting she offered me “data points” that might help me to better achieve my goals at work. They included smiling more, using a sweeter tone when speaking and not interrupting my male coworkers during meetings even though I had more experience and actually knew what I was talking about.

Never mind that I was 6 months pregnant at the time and successfully leading an international team of remote designers through a company rebrand. She felt that my direct, no-bullshit approach was abrasive. She let me know that she was looking out for my best interests, that in order to get ahead, I should be more feminine and to her, femininity meant being subservient. Her final suggestion was to attend a women’s conference (because by attending, I might learn how to fall in line with the pink army and start walking in lock-step silence).

I asked her if she felt she needed to have this conversation with the males on my team. She did not.

The point is, no male manager would suggest these kinds of behavioral changes or encourage his male coworkers to attend a conference where they could bro-down with each other. Men don’t need these conferences because they aren’t chastised for their totally normal behavior in the workplace. They aren’t scolded for their abhorrent behavior either.

To attend one of these women’s conferences is to single yourself out as other and lesser than. It’s to say that you need a safe space to feel empowered or confident to offer your opinion and give your expertise in a place where you should already be owed that.

Last fall you might’ve caught the podcast, The Dream. The 10-part series dives deep into the world of MLMs and takes special interest in the role women play in them.

Avon, Lula Roe, and Thirty-One, just to name of few, were all built on the backs of women. Their founders noted that women were good at selling housewares, make-up, ugly leggings, and Chevron-print totes. These companies promise women, especially stay-at-home-moms, the opportunity to earn riches on their own time and to feel empowered doing so. It’s typical prosperity gospel shtick, but it has women in its crosshairs.

MLMs are just one example of how businesses use the promise of female empowerment to lure women into peddling goods for little return.

I bring this up in regard to many (but not all) women’s conferences because they both offer the promise of empowerment. Direct sales companies often use women-only conferences and parties as a means of energizing their workforce. The conferences often cost a lot of money and are completely ineffective.

Equality in the workplace isn’t just about pay. It’s about being treated as an equal mind with equal expertise, equal value, and having an equal voice. Next time you’re tempted to go to one of these conferences, pause and ask yourself if any of your male coworkers are going to men’s conferences to empower themselves in a disempowered workplace. They probably aren’t.

Want to feel more confident at work? Find a mentor, ask for help, and let your voice be heard.

Meg Furey-Marquess is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. She has covered tech for The Metro Silicon Valley and The Bold Italic. She was named one of the Top 39 Writers on Medium in 2016.

Opinion Editorials

The offensive myth of getting laid off being a blessing

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There’s an age-old trend in news to look for rags-to-riches stories. People love to hear about someone who’s down on their luck scraping together a genius idea and, through sheer grit (it seems), finding the motivation to finally strike out on their own and realize their dream.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Person X is laid off from their long-time but unfulfilling office job, say at an oil company in Alberta, or a marketing agency where their good ideas are consistently shot down.

What seems like a situation to for despair is actually an opportunity in disguise— see, with their newfound freedom Person X has the ability to fully commit to their small business pipe dream.

In fact, the story goes, getting laid off was actually the best thing to ever happen to this person.

This story is a myth.

Although I don’t want to discredit anybody who has had the willpower, luck, and resources to succeed at launching their business, there are many people who are laid off who are truly in critically terrible times.

The insidious underlying message of this myth is that anybody who is truly devastated by being laid off is being weak or lazy.

It serves to alleviate the guilt of those who may have survived the lay off themselves; it helps organizations justify the fact that they might have had to let an otherwise good employee go for their own, corporate-level problems.

The characteristics that many of these laid-off-turned-successful-entrepreneurs have in common are the same sort of privileges that many take for granted – health, youth, a personal support system to help keep the lights on, and an established network of people that can be turned into a market of clients.

What happens to the many workers who are victims of ageism when they are laid off in favor of younger, less expensive workers?

What happens if you’re laid off and you can’t use your newfound time to work on your business plan because you’re raising young children?

The entrepreneurs who find opportunity in being suddenly jobless were probably already on their way to striking out on their own, with their being laid off acting as the defined starting point for a plan they might not have known was forming in their heads.

If you, a friend, or a colleague have the unfortunate luck to be laid off, don’t let this myth get under your skin.

It’s okay to have a rough time with a huge life event that is absolutely terrifying and difficult.

Hang in there.

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Opinion Editorials

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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