I make it a point to attend women-focused events in our community as often as possible. I know if these events aren’t well attended, they will simply go away. Not to mention, many are focused on gender equity issues, which are extremely important to me personally.
Most of the events on this topic boast prolific panelists, strong moderators and audiences made up of powerful corporate leaders. But when we really dissect these events – we have to ask ourselves if they are driving purposeful conversation – the type that is uncomfortable and real.
We know that systemic change takes decades, if not centuries. If we want to truly address gender equality in the workplace for our future generations, we need to start being more transparent and way more bold in how we drive conversations and action. That means putting on events and moderating discussions that are going to truly make people fidget in their seats, make their cheeks turn a little pink or make them want to quietly sneak out of the room before anyone notices.
The challenge with doing this is two-fold.
The first (and biggest) issue lies in the fact that many women’s events are put on with one thing in mind – garnering sponsorship dollars. We have quite a few awards in our town that highlight successful women, but we need to ask ourselves if these award programs are really driving action-oriented and transparent discussions. When events are designed to attract sponsors, the topics naturally lean to the conservative side and don’t touch heavily enough on controversial issues out of fear of scaring off potential corporate sponsors.
Secondly, we simply aren’t filling seats with a true representation of our population. When we aren’t challenging issues strongly or aren’t designing events that encourage discussion from both genders, we can’t be shocked when we attend women-focused events and see all women panelists and sit at tables filled with only females. Which means we are preaching to the choir.
But I get it. I get why more men aren’t attending.
See below for a list of some of the common themes discussed at women-focused events:
- What does success look like to you?
- Who is your mentor?
- How do you find work life balance?
- How do you manage other women?
- What’s your favorite quote?
And the answers that are typically given won’t shock you. Success is finding something you love and making a career out of it. Mentors mentioned often range from moms to Shonda Rhimes. Work/life balance – come on, you know the answer to this one. It’s all about always putting your kids first! How do you manage other women? With empathy, of course. What’s your favorite quote? Treat people the way you want to be treated!
You get the picture. It’s safe. Really safe. We are being far too conservative on the topics we are discussing, the panels of people we are choosing and the types of forums we are holding. You don’t see moderators end these forums asking the audience to commit to uncomfortable change or we don’t often see panelists speaking truths that cause some gasps or uneasy whispers.
And isn’t that the only way to move the needle?
So here is a call-to-action out there for all the event planners, moderators, future panelists and audience members – let’s get real. Let’s ask the questions and give the answers that make people understand what we are fighting for and why.
Let’s not lob the softballs at each other that require a standard answer that is given in some similar form during every female-panel discussion. Let’s look at roundtables and make sure men are a part of the conversations and that both sides of the debate are represented on each topic. Let’s make sure we are reiterating important statistics that not only highlight what is wrong but also what is terribly hard, like how small businesses will struggle to survive when trying to stay competitive with more progressive maternity leave policies.
Let’s stop being comfortable. Let’s make each other terribly uncomfortable.
Instead of asking women what success looks like, why not ask them what challenges they currently face in their career that they refuse to accept? Why not ask them to give one example of something they are willing to lose their job over in order to see change?
Instead of repeating the important stats that prove that diversifying the C-Suite actually relates to a stronger financial bottom line, let’s ask CEOs if they are willing to dramatically change recruiting efforts and hiring practices to ensure that there are a higher percentage of women in their organizations.
Let’s really dive deep into salary issues and talk to top corporate managers about pay scales and what ways they are strategically planning to ensure the mommy tax no longer exists within the walls of their company.
Instead of simply asking each other how we find work/life balance – why not ask moms to talk to the crowd about the times that they chose to put their career first and what positive or negative effect that had on their family?
And we need to also challenge our audience members. We need to use social media more to allow people to submit tougher questions or find ways to truly engage a stagnant audience. Maybe allow for tables to submit questions instead of individuals to take some of the fear away from asking a controversial question.
And as women, we need to challenge ourselves to use our time more wisely. We need to attend less events yet pledge to do more. We need to directly invite the men in our lives to attend and participate in these events . We need to commit to only being a part of conversations that push the envelope and focus on innovative ideas and thinking that can change outcomes in a scalable way.
If we want to see change at the systemic level – we need to fight harder, be louder and be braver.
Simply put, we need to become very comfortable with being uncomfortable.