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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.

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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

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…

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Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

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Opinion Editorials

Two common business myths that could get you sued

(EDITORIAL) Two misconceptions in the business world can either make or break a small business.

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When you’re an entrepreneur with a small staff, you may be in the habit of running your team casually.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating a casual environment for your team (most people function better in a relaxed environment), it’s wise to pay close attention to certain legal details to make sure you’re covered.

It’s easy to misinterpret certain aspects of labor law since there is a lot of misinformation about what you can and cannot do inside of an employee-employer relationship. And since labor laws vary from state to state, it can be even more confusing.

As an entrepreneur, it might be strange to think of yourself as an employer. But when you’re the boss, there’s no way around it.

Here are two employment myths you might face as an entrepreneur along with the information you need to discern what’s actually true. Because these myths carry a lot of risk to your business, it’s important that you contact an attorney for advice.

1. Employees can waive their meal breaks without compensation

It’s a common assumption that any agreement in writing is an enforceable, legally binding contract, no matter what it contains. And for the most part, that’s true.

However, there are certain rights that cannot be signed away so easily.

For example, many states in the US have strict regulations around when and how employees can forfeit their unpaid meal breaks.

While meal breaks aren’t required at the Federal level, they are mandated at the state level and each state has different requirements that must be followed by employers. While some states allow employees to waive their meal breaks, on the other end of that the employer is usually required to compensate the employee.

For example, in California an employee can waive their 30-minute unpaid meal break only if they do so in writing and their scheduled shift is no more than 6 hours. In other words, when a shift is more than 6 hours, the meal break cannot be waived.

Additionally, when an employee waives their unpaid meal break, they must be paid for an on duty meal break and be compensated with an extra hour of pay for the day.

Vermont, on the other hand, provides no specific provisions for meal breaks and according to the Department of Labor, “Employees are to be given ’reasonable opportunities’ during work periods to eat and use toilet facilities in order to protect the health and hygiene of the employee.”

As you can see, some states have specific regulations while others have general rules that can be interpreted differently by each employer. It’s best not to make any assumptions and contact a labor law attorney to help you determine exactly what laws apply to you.

2. You own the copyright to all employee works

So you’ve hired both an employee and an independent contractor to design some graphics for your website. You might assume you automatically own the copyright to those graphics. After all, if you paid money, shouldn’t you own it?

While you may have paid a small fortune for your graphics, you may not be the legal copyright holder.

Employees vs. independent contractors:

When your employee creates a work (like graphic design) as part of their job, it’s automatically considered a “work made for hire,” which means you own the copyright. An independent contractor, however, is different.

While any legitimate work made for hire will give you the copyright, just because you created a work for hire agreement with your independent contractor doesn’t mean the work actually falls under the category of a work made for hire.

According to the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 101) a work made for hire is defined as “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas.”

This means that unless your graphic design work (or other work you paid for) meets these requirements, it’s not a work made for hire.

In order to obtain the copyright, you need to obtain a copyright transfer directly from the creator, even though you’ve already paid for the work.

The boundaries of intellectual property rights can be confusing. You can protect your business by playing it safe and not making any assumptions before consulting an attorney to help you discern the specific laws in your state.

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Opinion Editorials

Living as a 7 in the Instagram world of 11s (why hotties rule IG)

(OPINION) Hot people have it, not people want it, Instagram perpetuates it – beauty, and it’s a prime ingredient for success.

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Who runs the world? Girls. Who runs the social media world (read: Instagram)? Hot girls. And hot guys.

Social media has always fascinated me. When I was a freshman in high school I got a Facebook – all you older millennials that had to wait ‘til college can hop off because I wasn’t allowed to have Myspace / Xanga / any other predecessor social sites.

That Facebook allowed me to connect to my camp friends, one of whom lived in a different country, family in other states and the friends that I saw every day.

My story is pretty predictable after that. Social media blew up, I did my millennial duty to help the creation and exposure of new sites and now here we are. Living in a society where hot girls on Instagram selling tea that makes you poo make more money than that girl with multiple degrees.

I’m not gonna blame millennials, but I kind of am, but everyone had a hand in this.

As a society we value celebrity. When I was a child that value manifested into society with tabloid magazines and copying haircuts (hello, Rachel Green). As a teen, that value on celebrity pivoted into the daytime/nighttime / anytime talk show. Now, as an adult that missed the opportunity to make an ascent into stardom via YouTube, celebrity is valued by way of social media.

EVEN CELEBRITIES HAVE THEIR CELEBRITY VALUE MEASURE BY SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOWERS.

Don’t get me wrong. Several *actually* talented and wonderful people have leveraged social media in niche ways and created a nice lifestyle for themselves. However, I’m also going to assert that 80% of social media influencers / modern celebrities would be nothing if they weren’t hot.

Singers that have worked their way up the ranks with 6 second Vine video snippets and two minute YouTube videos can have insanely gifted voices but it also doesn’t hurt that were nice to look at while they hit that E5 note.

Artists and illustrators that have busted their butts and their hands creating and making stunning visual pieces can create one-of-a-kind masterpieces but it also helps that they throw the occasional full-glam face selfie.

That one guy or gal that posts photos of (seemingly) delectable food can have grown a 100% organic following by creating content that people want to see but it will also never be a negative for them to post a photo of them in their swimsuit on that tropical island they got paid to visit.

And please hear me when I say this: being attractive helps offline too. The amount of times my insanely attractive guy friend has profited from his jawline jaw line is almost as crazy as the amount of times my unfairly gorgeous gal pal has reaped the benefits of having phenomenal facial symmetry. Hell, even I’ve used a hair flip and batted an eye in lieu of twisting arms.

I’m pretty sure there’s some science somewhere that says that its natural for people to be inherently attracted to attractive people. I’m not sure why that is, but at least in my life, I’ve found it to be true. Unashamedly (and slightly shamefully) I’ve listened to authority figures better when they were kind on the eyes, I’ve gone to the cash register with the prettier human, I’ve followed the accounts of people who created an aesthetic I vibed with more.

Sometimes it just feels like that if a quarter of the pictures on a highly followed account – skilled or otherwise — weren’t of the person made up, or shirtless, or provocatively posed, they might not have the same level of following or at least engagement. Honestly, it makes the whole exchange feel insincere (which is a funny thing to say about internet interactions to begin with). Like, even if I buy that gadget / get those clothes / put that makeup on / fill-in-the-blank from that #ad on your Instagram story the exact way you do I still won’t look like you.

Reminds me of that old saying, “you can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pig.” You can buy that stuff off that one hottie’s Instagram but you’re still going to be you.

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