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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.

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.

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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.

[clickToTweet tweet=”In an attempt to lift each other up, I would posit that we often hold ourselves (& each other) down.” quote=”In an attempt to lift each other up, I would posit that we often hold ourselves (and each other) down.”]

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.

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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.

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

8 Comments

8 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!!

  6. Pingback: How some women's conferences reinforce systemic workplace sexism - The American Genius

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