It’s Time To Get Uncomfortable About Gender Equity

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!

Yawn.

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.

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Amy Martin

Amy Martin is an avid conversationalist and insomniac (averages about four hours a night) who craves engagement online and off. She's often blogging or speaking about ways to develop your personal brand to companies and leaders in Cleveland. When she isn't focused on her day job, she is running her own consulting agency, Hyperthink! She is passionate about mentoring other women and hugging her kids (who are too old to appreciate the affection) and she resides in Westlake with her husband, who still cannot fully explain what she does for a living. Amy is usually smiling and has an awkward obsession with "Murder, She Wrote" and incredibly unrealistic mystery shows.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Amy, this is so true. I’ve been to a few of these and you’re 100% right- same questions, same answers. I wish the questions were the type of questions we asked men and that we said what was truly on our minds. Instead we give vague answers around authenticity which aren’t authentic at all. I’m not sure that I’ve ever left with soemthing new or something of true value (also probably why there aren’t a whole lot of men at these things) – I wish that organizers would shake things up.

  • Thanks for making us think and get uncomfortable! Need to think through this as it relates to IWD for next year.

  • So much YES here. During one event I attended this year, I got brave enough to ask a question of a panel of accomplished women: “How can I handle not appearing to be a ‘team player’ when I have to say ‘no’ to working late from time to time so I can be present for my family?” Response? “Try to think of a reason why you should say ‘yes.’ ”

    I have attended so many of these kinds of events, and have left every one of them disappointed because I have no action plan, and no understanding of how to apply change in my daily life without taking a risk that could endanger my career/financial situation. What’s worse is that two times, I have given my info to event organizers with the hopes of getting involved somehow to help change things, and I have heard nothing from either of them.

    The conversations I’ve had with women that are frank, open, and free of judgment happen over coffee, breakfasts, lunches, and the very rare happy hour. I know these women are out there (and I hope there are men, too). How do we bring them together into a context in which participants feel unafraid to have real conversations that could empower them to effect real change?

  • THANK GOD SOMEONE FINALLY SAID IT! I’ll go further than that. The generation of women today are flipping whimps! That’s right, whimps! Gloria Steinem said one of the biggest myths of feminism is this idea that previous generations did everything for us. It’s done and today we can just live our lives riding off of all previous feminists did for us.

    Getting the right to vote was a means to an end, it wasn’t the end. It was supposed to be a beginning.

    Just to let you know who I am… I was born and raised in Cleveland but now I live out in the Bay area. I went to Magnificat High School and lived in Westlake, in your hood Amy.

    I was a member of the San Francisco Financial Women’s Association but I didn’t like being a member. They had good networking, though it never really did anything for me. They also had really good speakers sometimes and that was worth attending. But I have been drowning in a corporate world that does not care how hard I work for it and treats me like dirt. But by and large, I feel these organizations are a big waste of time because they won’t address the HUGE ELEPHANT SITTING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM!

    There is this obscene fear of “oh… we can’t talk about that.”

    Really, then what’s the point? Why does this organization exist?

    We all know inequality is systemic in corporate America and it dramatically, negatively impacts our lives so why won’t women even talk about it?

    By the way, I’m currently studying for the CFA level 2 exam coming up in < 2 weeks so I'll be unavailable to respond to comments to my controversial comment for the next 2 weeks.

  • As always, well stated. The struggle for honest dialogue continues – and it starts with honest questions.

  • I’m surprised I didn’t get any negative comments to my comment. It was pretty controversial and I wrote it quickly without much thought since I was studying for an extremely difficult exam at the time. This is just an issue that has really bothered me for a long time.

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