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The insulting nature of well-meaning but misguided events for women in business

(EDITORIAL) At events designed for women, organizers often miss the mark and what is often offered is completely insulting. We can do better.

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events for women in business

Comparing apples to… potatoes?

Most of our offline life revolves around events in the tech industry. My husband (our company founder) and I focus on demo days, pitch sessions, data meetups, tech policy panels, tech mentoring, and so forth. We even roam the halls of real estate conferences too, but rarely spend time at women-only events. And here’s why…

I’ve been to enough events for women in business to offer an assessment of what often goes on. For example, last year, I went to a one-day event for women in business. It was huge. It was beautiful. There was champagne, luxury massage stations, and even gourmet chocolates. The women were unanimously giddy. And I couldn’t have been more uncomfortable. I was a fish out of water. A fish on Mars, if you will.

The expo hall and insulting agenda

The expo hall wasn’t filled with tools to help you grow your business, no, it was exclusively weight loss products, scarves, jewelry, makeup, skin care products, bath bombs, and so forth. It was painfully disorienting. Insulting. Is this how women in business see women in business?

Then, looking over the agenda, the sessions were mostly about how to build confidence and find your self-worth, what skirts are hot hot hot right now, and how to communicate to male bosses when feeling emotional. I shit you not.

While I am acutely aware that this one event doesn’t represent all events tailored to women, most are at least marginally guilty of this well-meaning but misguided pandering. The gifts are often overly feminized – “thanks for joining us, here’s a free face lotion that smells like daisies and zebra print.” The vendors or sponsors are costume jewelry makers. The sessions are often little more than “hey, girl power is neat, let’s have girl power!” Okay – complimentary leopard print journals with glitter lettering does not girl power make.

Let’s talk about REAL girl power

Real girl power is not assuming that one gender is superior or inferior. Real girl power (surprise, surprise) empowers women. Real girl power doesn’t diminish women to a demographic that equates their business success to a face wash, a pink prop, an empty effort.

In an attempt to lift each other up, I would posit that we often hold ourselves (and each other) down.Click To Tweet

There is a time and place for this stuff

There is a time and place to buy makeup, overdose on the color pink, and giggle over gel nail polish. But that time is at home or with your friends on your personal time. There is no correlation to your business. You know, that place where you go to negotiate like a boss, where you juggle endless calls, train your staff, master your marketing, pursue continuing education about laws and policies, all while (oh my) managing to be a woman out in this big scary world.

If there was an event just for “men in business” with vendors that minimized them to neon signs for their man cave, engraved bourbon glasses, tie organizers, and golf balls, it would be a flop. If the sessions were about how not to fart during meetings, or how to not sexually harass your female assistant, ticket sales would be zero. This would just never happen.

What you can do next

Next time you’re part of organizing an event, think about what you’ve read here. Let it echo in your mind. Please. All conferences have something corny at them (that scarf vendor is always going to sell out), that’s fine, but is the focus on business as it should be?

I challenge you to seek out vendors that don’t diminish what it is to be a woman in the business world – seek out vendors that will help in business like lead generation tools, online ad managers, productivity suites, and so forth.

Next time you’re going to buy a ticket to an event that is “for women,” check out the vendors, sponsors, and agenda first. If you don’t see anything about business, rather a slew of weight loss and beauty products, think twice.

Look, if you’re going to have a girl’s weekend, just go do it. If you’re having a bake sale or trunk show, just go do it. But let’s not kid ourselves – many of these events for women are little more than a play day.

Stereotyping each other is bad. Stereotyping ourselves is worse. Paying to be stereotyped is repulsive. We can do better.

This editorial was originally published in October of 2016.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Kj Lange

    October 20, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    I am with you on this. If I want to do a girls night out and help my friends in different other businesses sell their products, I will. And I do. A girls night out.
    But Womens shows are notorious for this stuff. The one that gripes me more is when they have psychics and tarot card readers.
    Seriously.

  2. Erica Ramus

    October 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Years ago when I was an incoming President of our Chamber of Commerce I wanted to start a Women’s group, a subset of the Chamber. The EO fought me and I thought he was wrong. Now I think he was right. SO now our COC does have a women’s only subset – and I don’t go to anything. They have gift exchanges at Christmas, juggling family and business talks, luncheons that talk about choosing the colors you wear and how to financial plan as women. The prior EO thought that segregating woman/men would create a divide and that all groups were welcome at all talks – why make some just for one gender. He was right. I am not saying that the women’s group doesn’t provide value – to some – but it is not what I would have envisioned. If a talk can be on preparing for retirement, for example, why does it need to be targeted to women’s planning for retirement. Oh and the “choose the colors I will wear” and gift exchanges – please. Do it on the weekend.

  3. Kelly Mitchell

    February 28, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Such a refreshing and candid perspective Lani. You reflect many of my thoughts and experiences.

    I think women events should champion women speakers. There are so many great ones out there that rarely see the light of day due to our male oriented society (in all verticals).

    For now, I’ll avoid “Women Conferences” because of all the things you’ve mentioned as I have before and at present. It’s sad.

    Doing business, regardless of your sex, is all about doing it better & learning new things. Not giggles & facials.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 1, 2017 at 12:19 pm

      AMEN – thanks for weighing in, Kelly. Truly. 🙂

  4. Bob LeDrew

    March 1, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    I’m seriously trying to imagine what a men-only “business show” would offer, the inverse of this. Booths from gyms? Ab machines? I don’t doubt there’s a need for women entrepreneurs to be supported. But surely this isn’t what they need.

  5. Erin Young

    February 6, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. As a mother, wife, daughter, friend and an entrepreneur, there are a lot of people who deserve my time and attention. I don’t often get the chance to focus on self-development and learning. So when I do, I’m highly selective.

    When it comes to professional matters, I’d prefer that my gender have nothing to do with the conversation. Why would I choose programming targeted at me based on my gender? Can I expect that the industry’s very best content will come in pink packaging? I think not.

    In my mind, the best (and maybe even only) professional reason to gather on the basis of gender is to focus on strategies for overcoming gender inequality. And that conversation has just as much to do with men as it does with women so it shouldn’t take place at a women-only event.

    Women are diverse. Businesses are diverse. And in my very limited self-development time, I’ll learn more from being around the best from my specific industry–regardless of their gender.

    Hear, hear, Lani!

    • Lani Rosales

      February 8, 2018 at 8:40 pm

      Phenomenal points, thank you for taking the time to comment, Erin!!

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Opinion Editorials

How to encourage your childrens’ entrepreneurship

(EDITORIAL) To encourage entrepreneurship for our children, we focus on providing them with direct evidence that they can do and be anything they want (excepting the six year old, who currently wants to be a cat).

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When I walk in the door most days, the routine’s predictable. Drop my briefcase, check the mail, and by this point I’ve received an invitation to go to my daughters’ store. What’s for sale invariably changes from day-to-day — sometimes it’s a pet store, or a bespoke clothier, or a coffee shop — but I’m always amazed at the level of thinking about multiple aspects of business ownership that they put into their play.

For example, I’m typically offered coupons and combination deals on whatever my purchases might be, which means that we get to have rich conversations about the purpose of such incentives and how they affect both customer perception of their brand and their profit margin.

Now, as they’re both under ten years old, many of these conversations don’t cause their games to stop for an introductory economics lesson, but I want them to keep these discussions in mind as their play expands. The world in which they’re growing up is a very different place from that which their parents did, and the possibilities they can embrace literally did not exist a generation ago.

So, too, the challenges that they’ll face. While the number of career fields and the jobs within them that are fully accessible to women are growing exponentially, the globalization of the economy and the shift towards a gig workforce means that they’ll have to compete against not only the remnants of outdated gender expectations, but also considerably larger numbers of people to do so, and with less stability in their career paths once they arrive.

To encourage the entrepreneurial spirit within our girls we, like many parents, focus on providing them with direct evidence that they can do and be anything they want (excepting the six year old, who currently wants to be a cat).

It’s been well said that what one can see, one can be. A 2012 MIT report found that in Indian villages where women held positions of responsibility and authority in local government, levels of aspiration and access to education rose by 25 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The amount of hours they had to devote to completing domestic chores dropped by nearly 25 percent.

It’s important to us to have our daughters see successful women in all walks of life to let them know that they are limited only in their passions and imagination, and should never settle for anything that they don’t want.

It’s also important for us to show them examples of young entrepreneurship whenever possible as well. In a 2015 analysis of Federal Reserve Bank data, the Wall Street Journal found that the percentage of adults under the age of 30 who had ownership stakes in private companies had fallen 70 per cent over the past 24 years. This illustrates the myth of the swashbuckling 20-something entrepreneur, along with the underlying challenges to business ownership.

By being realists about the challenges as well as idealistic about the possibilities, we want to keep alive the spirit that makes them excited to open a combination fish store and haberdashery in their playroom today, with the anticipation of changing the world through their professional passions tomorrow.

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Opinion Editorials

Is “Cuddle a Coworker” ever an acceptable team building exercise?

(EDITORIAL) In today’s “oh hell no” news, one company’s foray into conflict resolution has us heated. In the #MeToo era, Coworker Cuddling is just plain stupid.

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Nowadays, it seems that companies are taking a more active role in employee engagement and activity. This often consists of team building exercises.

I’ve heard of offices conducting these exercises in forms of activities like “Minute to Win It” and team outings. Hell, even trust falls. But, I’ve never been as shocked, disturbed, and confused at a team building exercise as I was earlier today.

Why, you ask? Because I just learned that “cuddle a coworker” is apparently a thing.

And, if you’re first response wasn’t “what the…,” you probably won’t like the rest of this story.

My initial assumption was that this had to be a deleted scene from an episode of The Office. When I dug a little deeper, I found out that this was something implemented by Team Tactics.

Apparently this “exercise” is where groups of 4 to 20 people can get into a tent (say it with me, “what the…”) and have the option to cuddle. They also have different positions available in which to cuddle.

This team building exercise lasts for the entire workday (how?) and is based on science which shows that cuddling, specifically skin to skin contact, can encourage the release of Oxytocin and Serotonin. The tent used, referred to as a “relaxation tent,” is designed to reduce stress and encourage team bonding.

Each relaxation tent is based on Moroccan and Indian relaxation practices, which includes incense, oil lamp lighting, large bean bags, and relaxation beds. Sure, they’re in the UK, but the culture isn’t different enough to make much of a difference in this #MeToo era.

Regardless, the team building event begins with employees airing their grievances about negative traits of co-workers, and bringing up issues that they’d like to discuss. This is all designed to clear the air, and eventually will make way for “conflict resolution cuddling.”

Conflict. Resolution. Cuddling.

“Team building is at the centre of our business, and we’re always looking for new ways to help employees across the UK become more connected with their colleagues,” said Tina Benson, managing director at Team Tactics.“We know it’s something completely new and it might not be for everyone, but the science is already there – we’re just putting it to the test!”

I, for one, have never passed Tony in HR and thought, “Man, the way he chews his food is super annoying. But, I bet if we cuddled it out, I could get past his flaws.”

What are your thoughts on this… interesting concept?

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Opinion Editorials

20 bullsh*t buzzwords that should be banned from tech forever

(OPINION) As the language of tech ebbs and flows, there are linguistic potholes so over-used, so annoying, they make you want to scream. Here’s 20 of the worst offenders.

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There’s specific lingo in any industry. Buzzwords, if you will. Get a group of friends who work together for beers after clocking out, and chances are you’ll get lost quickly once they start trading war stories – outsiders beware.

But, there’s one community who puts even nurses (marry a nurse, and you’ll learn what prophylaxis means) to shame with insider speak and bullshit buzzwords: the tech community.

Tech folks are like business and marketing people but mutated. There’s so much free-flowing jargon that goes unchecked and evolves a la Origin of The Species within days. The words and phrases become gospel and, before you know it, people are sharing these nonsense phrases that become the industry norm, leaving anyone on the outside scratching their heads, trying to decipher the tech code.

But, as the language of tech ebbs and flows, there are linguistic potholes so over-used, so annoying, they make you want to scream. There are words used so out of context that make you want to turn them into a snarky meme and pass it around the office because you’re a jerk like that. (Well, I’m at least a jerk like that.)

These are some of those words.

The words that need to die a horrible, 24 hour, “what does it all mean” death.

Words that should be locked away in a prison so vile Charles Manson would be like, “Nah, bro. I’m good.”

Please don’t use these words in your marketing, pitch meetings, or just ever. They suck.Click To Tweet

Strap in and lock it down, here we go:

1. Sync
Can’t we just say “everyone knows what’s going on” instead of sync? This is one of those metaphors alluding to tech as melded with the products and culture, serving as interchangeable. We’re people, not iPhones to be plugged into our laptops. We don’t need to sync. We can meet up.

2. Robust
Robust is coffee, a strong tea you imported from India. It’s not a tech software experience. A can of Folgers can claim to be robust, your project tool cannot share this claim.

3. Pain point
Are we still using this one? A pain point is an elbow that’s got an owie, not what a customer thinks sucks.

4. Delight
I’m delighted to eat an excellent meal or get an unexpected call from an old friend. I’m delighted to leave work early to have drinks. I’m not delighted to use enterprise software. Sure, it makes my day easier. Does it offer a view of heaven when I can use self-service? I think not.

5. Disrupt
One of the godzillas of Jargon Mountain. I get that this worked in context a few years ago. But, now? You’re not “the Uber of…” and you’re not “disrupting” anything.

You built a parking app, Pat. You didn’t change the world.

If you dethrone Facebook, you’ve disrupted the world. ‘Til then, keep your pants on. Your algorithm for the best pizza place in town ain’t changing the block, let alone the face of communication.

6. Game changer & Change agent
Does anyone buy into this one? Was the game changed? This goes in the bin with “Disrupt.”

7. Bleeding Edge
Some jerk in some office decided “the cutting edge” wasn’t enough. It wasn’t hyper progressive enough, so they labeled their work the “bleeding edge”.

If this phrase were any more douchey, it would have a neck beard and a fedora and argue the tenants of socialism on IRC with strangers while sipping Mountain Dew.

8. Dog food
Who came up with this? When did a beta test get labeled as “dog food” I’m still lost on how this one became the industry standard. “We’re eating our own dog food.” This doesn’t even make a lick of sense, people. Just say we’re testing something. It’s a lot easier.

9. Alignment
What happened to just saying you agree? I thought alignment was for tires, not for working. I’ll give you parallel, but alignment? Not buying it.

10. Pivot
Pivot is just a fancy, non-finger point-y way of saying change. And typically, that change is reacting to something not going the company’s way. “Pivoting” means reacting to bad news or undesired outcome and making everyone involved feel smarter about the process.

11. Revolutionary
Unless you’ve built software that cures cancer, does something better than Elon Musk, or gets you laid faster than Tinder, you’re not revolutionary. You’re an element of evolution in a steadily progressing world.

12. Internet of Things
I still don’t even know what the hell this means. Really. It’s one of those phrases people use and pretend to know but really don’t.

13. Bandwidth
I thought bandwidth was Internet stuff, not how busy you are at work. Can’t we say, “if you’re not too busy,” instead of, “if you have the bandwidth,”..?? These are people, not routers.

14. Low-hanging fruit
You mean the easy work? “Easy win” even applies here. But the whole gardening metaphor is tired. It’s ok to say, “Do the easy work first” in a meeting. Hiding behind a metaphorical phrase doesn’t make the work any less important.

15. Deliverables
Do we need to break everything down into words to make the process more complicated? Aren’t deliverables, just work? It’s an adjective to describe what work you’re completing… so… it’s just work. Throw in a “key, ” and you’re jargon-y as all get out.

16. Circle Back
Translation: I don’t want to continue talking about this right now, so I’m going to schedule more pointless meetings to discuss this thing I don’t understand and don’t want to talk about in a few days. Likely, scheduled on your lunch break.

17. Action item
What happened to the good ole’ “to do List”? Instead, we’ve got “action item”. You come out of a meeting with a sore ass. The boss pounds on your for the stuff you need to do. You’re up to your ears in homework, yet, it’s not work you need to do – it’s “action items, to be delivered upon.” WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?

18. Take it offline
If there was ever painful corporate-speak, this one is a granddaddy. Instead of burning minutes in a meeting, someone will announce, “let’s take it offline.” Always happens. What about, “let’s talk about this face to face,” or “I’ll swing by your desk”, or “let’s figure this out.”

We appreciate you not annoying the rest of us with your A+B problem, but we’re not all living in the matrix. Or, at least we think we’re not.

19. Buy-in
Committing to something – a culture, an idea, a feeling. We’re equating life to a poker game and expecting everyone to get the idea, too. So lame.

20. Rockstar – Ninja – Wizard – whatever descriptive verb
This one. Holy horse crap. Can we PLEASE STOP with trying to slap a descriptive label on good work? I get it. You want to exclaim your person is a badass, and they’ve got chops. But this labeling of people in fantastical ways just sucks. When did the craft of a ninja, or the fantastical abilities of a wizard relate to code? And the rockstar thing?

Dudes, you’re not Keith Richards, you wear a startup hoodie and complain when you’re not getting free lunch at work.

Also, these names suck because they imply some male-dominance-cum-brogrammer mentality. They’re shadowy ciphers that are such machismo, it’ll barf up a steak. When a woman gets labeled a “ninja” it’s in an entirely different context, and that’s not cool. Writers have to get creative and use terms like “acrobat” or “juggler” to give off a sentiment of equal playing field, and it’s obnoxious. Just stop with these lame titles.

And there you have it. 20 bullshit buzzwords that should be banned forever and ever. Comment away, and add the jargon you loathe in the comments section. If it goes well, maybe they’ll ask me to write a part two, and we’ll make even more people mad.

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