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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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womens conference

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

Uber CEO regrets saying that murder is part of business

(EDITORIAL) Uber CEO calls murder a mistake. Should society support a business that seems to think death is just part of the cost of doing business?

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Uber Pickup

On February 21, 2016, I woke up early to notifications about a shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An Uber driver shot multiple individuals. Although I live in Oklahoma, the Facebook algorithms correctly deduced that this incident would be of interest to me. I have family and friends in Michigan, some in the Battle Creek area, just miles east of Kalamazoo. Later that morning, I learned that one of my friends had been killed in the incident.

Uber was criticized for the incident. Lawmakers across the country called for tougher background checks on Uber drivers. It was a PR nightmare for the company. Ultimately, it was the driver who was charged. Earlier this year, the driver pled guilty to all counts against him and was sentenced to life in prison. Uber continued operating, although then-Governor Rick Snyder did sign legislation that increased regulations for the ride-sharing industry.

I say this out of disclosure. This Uber tragedy affected me in a way that may cloud my opinion. I believe that Uber should be regulated more than it is. But recent events have made me question why society supports Uber and what I believe is a toxic culture.

How does Uber keep managing their corporate profile?

Uber seems to weather their PR crises fairly well. They’ve been criticized for inadequate background checks. Sexual harassment allegations at corporate headquarters shook up the management team. Uber has suffered data breaches. In 2018, the organization settled with the FTC for $148 million. Still, the company enjoys a market share of transportation services.

In 2018, Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia took over at Uber as its new CEO, replacing the CEO and founder Travis Kalanick. It was reported that Kalanick “led the company astray” from its moral center. Khosrowshahi said at the time, “In the end, the CEO of the company has to take responsibility.”

Just days ago, during an interview, Khosrowshahi said that “the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a ‘mistake.’” It was a political murder. Khosrowshahi compared the assassination to a self-driving accident with an Uber vehicle that killed a pedestrian. It didn’t take long for Khosrowshahi to issue a retraction, saying that he “said something in the moment (he doesn’t) believe.”

Is Uber’s culture toxic?

Khosrowshahi says that his comment shouldn’t mark him as a person. He thinks that what he said was a “learning moment.” When a CEO misspeaks in an interview that isn’t just local, but international, maybe we should pay attention. According to him, murder isn’t a big deal. I wonder if he would say that if it was his father who died, or his friend who was killed by a driver.

When my friend died in the Kalamazoo shooting, I had to seriously think about how I viewed Uber. My friend wasn’t even using Uber at the time. She was getting into her own car at a local restaurant with some friends of hers. I recognize that Uber wasn’t responsible for the driver going on a shooting spree, but I have to wonder if it was Uber’s culture that led to a lack of response at the time.

Uber’s new CEO seems removed from how its services affect individuals and communities as its previous CEO did. When a company thinks that murder is a “mistake,” maybe it’s time to rethink about supporting a service that doesn’t seem to think about people, its employees, its drivers and its riders.

It may be more convenient than a cab, but it’s time to look at Uber’s real impact on society. I hear Uber saying that innocent deaths are just the cost of business. Is that the basis for a billion-dollar corporation?

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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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funny females promoted less often

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

To the unsung entrepreneurial heroes – we believe in you

(EDITORIAL) To the unseen entrepreneur we see you and we know that you work your tails off to do good things in your community even if it never means going IPO.

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restaurant entrepreneurs

I recently frequented one of my favorite new restaurants to find it permanently closed after less than a year. This locally sourced brunch place had pinpointed all of the farms that supplied their food on a map of California that hung like gallery art in the center of their restaurant.

They made sandwiches at their shop with donated food for the homeless and wrote inspirational notes to tuck inside their brown bag lunches. Their food was not only nutritious but delicious, and they seemed to always have patrons when we went, not too many that there was a line out the door, but enough that they always seemed busy.

I wish that we had spent more time there, more money, told more of our friends or left glowing yelp reviews, but we are only two people, two people who took a delicious restaurant for granted because we thought how could this fail?

I’m sure that’s what the owners believed too when they started out.

They probably thought they’d make great food that people want to eat in a location newly dubbed Silicon Beach – amid shiny live/work complexes, surrounded by startups and young people.

They ventured that they could morally source nutritious food, give back to the community, and be excellent.

Part of me imagines that they did so well as a restaurant that they shut their doors just to expand, or open in a better location, or take a much needed break. But they probably failed, like so many businesses do, and I want to take a moment to say thanks.

Not just to the restaurant that served the best breakfast tater tots that I have ever had the pleasure of eating, but to every entrepreneur who embarks on a journey that tries to make the world better.

I’m not just talking about the tech entrepreneurs, though we need you too.

I’m mostly talking about the unseen baker that wakes up at 3am every morning just to bring a handful of baked goods to their city. Or about the small store owner that stocks chotchkies and cookbooks and beautiful things all of which I wish I could buy. I’m talking about the start up plumber who shows up to your house on a Sunday afternoon and fixes your toilet because you’re at your wits end.

You are the unsung entrepreneurs, the heroes that we hurriedly thank on our way out the door.

You are the folks who had a dream and risked everything to bring us delicious food, adorable chotchkies, and functional plumbing.

A mentor of mine once told me that to be successful you must jump in the water, swim as fast as you can, and slowly increase the speed.

To those of you out there swimming as fast as you can – we’re behind you, and we appreciate you.

This is your headline, one you don’t often get — keep doing what you’re doing, we believe in you, and your hard work does not go unnoticed.

And if you decide after everything you’ve been through that it’s time to hang a permanently closed sign on your front door, there are people out there, lots of them maybe, who will mourn the loss of your mini quiches, your adorable iPhone cases, or even the best breakfast tater tots in the world.

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