So, in the Lenten rules of Lent, Sunday’s are not part of the 40 Days. But today is International Women’s Day, so I’m bending the Project Guidelines to write today instead of yesterday. There are a few things I want to unpack, so here we go.
Item the first: I don’t love International Women’s Day. I know. Scandalous. I don’t love it because it feels like a photo-op for (some) groups to say “Look! Look at how much we appreciate and support our woman colleagues and employees! Look at the slick marketing we’re doing to show you how benevolent and progressive we are!” Then, as soon as the calendar ticks over to March 9 or 10, we can all go back to the status quo. That’s not OK. It should be something (some) groups are working on all year, when there’s not a campaign around it. When the cynical view doesn’t suggest that the involvement in International Woman’s Day can be tied into a net promoter score of some kind. If you want to support women, do it every day, not based on a day on the calendar. But I also understand that we’re not at that place yet, and it’s good to want things, so here’s where we find ourselves.
Item the second: A few years back, I attended a Women’s Day session at work. A co-worker had just attended a Women in Technology conference, and she was invigorated. She spoke about the energy in the room and powerful keynotes. And then she quipped about how, even in the evening, it was really fun because the attendees just wandered the halls of the hotel in their pajamas.
I get (and 100% support) the point about how when women see women leaders, they can more easily see themselves as leaders. It’s important for potential leaders to have someone to emulate and someone by whom they feel they can be mentored. Absolutely valid. But I also think that when you talk about networking in your teddybear jammy pants, you’re doing a disservice to that effort. When we collectively talk about that kind of experience and then wonder why men don’t attend Women in Tech seminars, I think you might have your answer. Try to imagine a male leader doing a team debrief after a leadership seminar, and saying “ … and then Steve and Todd and I laughedandlaughedandlaughed and we talked about where Doug got his super cute PJs. It was great!” I’m trying to imaging *anyone* on my team (peers or leaders, male or female) saying that. I can’t, because that’s not the way you’re taken seriously.
I know that the women in the hotel halls at my co-worker’s conference probably weren’t talking about each other’s pajamas. But even my immigrant grandmother knew that you dressed for the job you wanted. And you don’t go to work in your sleepwear. I mean sure, enjoy the company of your new convention-friends. But maybe don’t pitch that part of the conference as a focal point above the actual conference agenda. If you’re going to focus on the networking (and seriously, conferences are totally about networking), there’s maybe a different way to present that.
I dunno. Maybe that seems harsh. But sorrynotsorry, I won’t take someone seriously as a leader if they’re wearing flannel pants. And I don’t think I’m alone in that attitude. The fact that this is normalized behaviour for women seems problematic for me. There’s a wardrobe that goes along with leader, regardless of gender. Sleepwear need not apply.
There are certainly inequalities that absolutely need to be addressed. But it feels like women are kneecapping themselves with this kind of behavior, and that’s no good either. It behooves us all to work toward a better state of affairs.
Item the third: The 2020 UN theme is “I am Generational Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”. That’s quite a mouthful. It’s the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was a vision for the future of women’s rights. I’m a white middle-class, university-educated married mother. I can vote and drive and I’m the major breadwinner in my family. I’m privileged, to be sure. Lots of women aren’t so fortunate. Lots of people aren’t so fortunate. In many places and forums, women have made big steps in economic, political, cultural, and social achievement. In many other places and forums, they’ve been denied and beaten down (figuratively and literally). Some places are worse than others, some professions are better than others. There’s not equality between genders anywhere. The progress is achingly slow, and the threat of backsliding is ever-present.
So yes, there’s work to do.
On Women’s Day (and during Lent, and every other day), may I lend a hand to anyone, regardless of gender, who is belittled or rendered powerless. This Lent, from Boomer to Gen X to Millennial+, may all of us be part of Generation Equality.