Must women shout to be heard? Must anyone shout to be heard? And if we are heard – then what?
In the past 24 hours, I came across two very different articles to do with women in America. The first concerns women entrepreneurs in technology. The second addresses women in media and an appalling lack of representation.
That gap in representation?
It includes a lack of voice when it comes to the most intimate issues that affect a woman’s life. And yes, we’re speaking of reproductive rights, front and center in the political process.
As I consider both articles, I would like to make several critical points – specifically dealing with opportunity, community, leadership, and action.
A Woman’s Voice is a Human Voice
Yes, I’m going to generalize, I’m basing my opinions on my own experience, and yes, I’d love for you to bring your point of view – opposing or otherwise – to this discussion.
No one has all the answers; men and women need to work together to find the questions, and together to activate solutions.
That said, I believe that a woman’s voice is a more humanist voice, generally speaking. Women tend to be relationship-focused, considerate of relationship consequences, and as the major providers of both childcare and elder care – we appreciate the value of teaching, nurturing, and compassion.
These traits are not weaknesses. They are strengths.
These traits are not incompatible with decision-making; they humanize it.
These traits are not inconsistent with leadership; they enhance it.
Women, the Economy, Tech Start-Ups
The first article I encountered that I would like to quote is CNBC’s “How Women Are Changing the Tech World.” According to the article:
The emergence of young female tech founders and executives reflects sweeping change in the worlds of start-up companies and angel funding… It underscores the enormous purchasing prowess of women online that is transforming the Web economy. As more consumers reach for their smartphones and tablets to shop and communicate, there is a pressing need for commerce sites that cater to women, who control 70% of online purchases worldwide, according to Lisa Stone, CEO of BlogHer, a digital media company.
While the CNBC report offers cause for optimism, it cautions us not to be misled:
Just 3% of all tech start-ups are led by women, according to a Kauffman Foundation report. Only a handful of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women. Indeed, the glass ceiling remains a reality for many women, and charges of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination persist.
We Arrive at Point One: Opportunity
How do we create more opportunity for women in every sector? How do we support these female mavericks who are boldly stepping up in the digital sector?
If women lack opportunity – and we won’t even address the over 50 crowd at the moment – is it as simple as a bad economy and too few jobs?
I don’t think so.
I think it’s anything but simple, and to propose otherwise would be foolish. Just as foolish? Falling back on the cliché that we “make our own opportunities.”
Of course we make our opportunities – to some degree. But, it takes much more than that – support systems, resources, trade-offs, a little bit of luck. And someone has to raise the children. Someone has to care for the elderly. Someone has to nurse and nurture and teach and guide – and that someone is usually, though not always, a woman.
Whether or not this is by individual choice or (economic) default is a topic for another time. Suffice it to say that women who are disproportionately carrying the domestic load need infrastructure that continues to elude us: healthcare, childcare, elder care, flexibility in employment structures, and a voice in policy decisions – both political and organizational.
That leads me to my second and third points – community and leadership – and to the second article which I read.
Community and Leadership: Women Helping Women
How many times do we hear that women are their own worst enemies? How many of us would agree – having found ourselves in power struggles and relationship competition, not to mention growing waves of childish “mean girl” behaviors?
I firmly believe in the abundant capacity for women to reach out and help others. It is our gift, our awareness of life’s fragility, our emotional intelligence and yes – our tendency to be caregivers.
We must stop fighting one another, and focus on joining forces.
How many of us have connected in online communities and accomplished extraordinary things? How many of us have learned from each other, helped each other in the “real world,” and then passed along that power in genuine pay-it-forward fashion?
And I repeat: relationship skills, emotional investment, and care giving are strengths. They do not preclude decision-making. They do not invalidate leadership skills.
But if we’re so weary from “doing it all” – making a buck to put food on the table, taking care of the kids and the aging parents, worrying about the college fund that is quickly disappearing – how can we ever imagine ourselves in “start-ups” much less corporate leaders? Can we look for lessons in other countries that manage to achieve a superior work-life balance?
So how do we take a rallying cry in which we nod our heads in affirmation, and find the energy for action?
Raising our Voices: From Rhetoric to Action
I do not believe that we have to shout to be heard. But we do have to find our voices, use them clearly, choose our venues, and construct our messages so we may inspire. And we cannot let up.
But once we’ve inspired, then what? Don’t we need to move from the 10,000 foot level to specifics?
Tangible plans are in order. Manageable tasks. And yes, of course we need organization – and communication.
In a recent article, Barbara Hannah Grufferman addresses the issue of women in media. She writes:
According to 4thEstate.net… a gender gap exists in U.S. media, and it’s excruciatingly wide. In print, radio and television media, female newsmakers are dramatically under-represented. Male newsmakers make up around 70% of the statements in all three categories and females hover in the 20% range.
While this is concerning, to me, what follows is even more damning:
… men are quoted and cited as experts much more often than women in the general media, even when the issues being discussed are specific to women… men are more likely to be quoted on their subjective insight in newspapers and on television… For example, in front page articles about the 2012 election that mention abortion or birth control, men are 4 to 7 times more likely to be cited than women.
Ms. Grufferman isn’t talking about women on morning gab fests. She isn’t addressing female characters that entertain us on our television screens. She means voices that influence – with their knowledge, their expertise, their policy decisions.
She is recognizing that opportunity + community + leadership = women claiming their voice.
This is a rallying cry. We need the rallying cry – to incite us, to motivate us, to remind us not to lose sight of critical challenges and not to wait around thinking someone else will take care of them for us.
Real Women, Real Fatigue, Real World
The rallying cry is the first step. Some might say that organizing is the next, and action after that. But like many of the women who commented on the Huffington Post column, I’m slogging my way through each day; I can’t imagine how I could carve out another hour, much less the time to become politically involved – at least, not in a traditional fashion.
To some, this may be “feminism.” To me, it’s common sense.
But setting aside the bias of labels, can we focus on contributions? On waste? On the importance of increasing contributions and reducing waste?
What if men and women were to encourage our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, and our wives to hone their expertise and speak their minds in their respective fields? What if we encourage our Stay-At-Home-Moms to do so as well? And what if we all stop thinking small?
What if we support women speaking with confidence – real women telling the truths of their lives – without judgment, without comparison, and without remarking on hair and makeup?
Isn’t part of the problem with the War on Women – the women?
No Easy Answers for Complex Questions
What if we seriously discuss the economic issues – and infrastructure issues – that continue to pose obstacles in our real lives?
What if every woman who is employed makes it a point to mentor another woman – or group of women? What if those who are used to public speaking help a colleague who is not?
If women are underrepresented in media – and other industries – we cannot isolate a single cause, and we certainly can’t expect a simple fix. These are complex challenges; there are no simple solutions.
Where I disagree with the column is in its implication that the economy as an issue shouldn’t take precedence over what is termed “women’s rights.” Perhaps the problem is PR or semantics; women’s rights are human rights, and women’s challenges are undeniably economic to the core.
And do read the article. It addresses additional points pertaining to gender and the job market which Ms. Grufferman adroitly drives home.
But this isn’t merely a matter of “more jobs for women.” Until we begin to tackle the necessary infrastructure that would allow women to actually work in a greater number of roles, to rise to levels in which they can flex their leadership muscle, as long as we do not have employment structures, leave policies, health care, education, child care, elder care – or grassroots communities that encourage women to help each other – I’m hard-pressed to imagine that we won’t be fighting the same battles 40 years from now that we were fighting 40 years ago.
Optimism and Reality
I will return to the optimism of the Tech article, offset by the reality of the tiny percentage of women in leadership roles. I will add that the same article expresses an area of tremendous potential that remains to be tapped:
Women will influence the purchase of $15 trillion in goods by 2014, according to Boston Consulting Group.
Think about that. Purchase influence at $15 trillion, by 2014.
Shouldn’t women have a leadership role in the companies that bring these products and services to market, in the policies of these companies, and in the media that shapes our perception of everything that happens in our society?
We can take motivational words and turn them into our own action plans. I’ve written of this before. I encourage you to try it.
It is my fervent hope that the women running new companies will support other women who seek to work for them.
It is my fervent hope that women in established companies will lobby, persuade, and make the business case for workplace changes that are more family-friendly. I applaud those angel investors who are supporting entrepreneurship. We need to mentor women, hire women, invest in women, teach women to stand up.
Raising Our Voices
As to whether or not women have a voice, and what that actually means – we know we’re underrepresented in positions of power. It’s crystal clear the same is true in traditional media. But what about social media?
If the women in Silicon Valley are benefiting from reduced barriers to entry (lower cost, changing technology), shouldn’t women’s voices be heard more quickly, more easily, more candidly, more lucidly – in ways that would help all of us?
If the rallying cry informs and motivates, and some of us are too tired to “organize” per se, can’t we still take action – and take advantage of the media that are literally at our fingertips? Can’t we look to create “real” communities that help, supported by those we construct so well in our virtual spaces?
Don’t we want to raise daughters and sons with the conviction that they have equal access to opportunity? To what extent are we throwing the game from the beginning, and distorting what ought to be a skills-based competition?
We’re in this together. We sink or swim together. If the women don’t have a voice and sink – we all go down. I say we dig in and work collaboratively, encourage a variety of perspectives, and the logical inclusion of women at the top of their game in the game.
Use your social media voice to be heard on women’s issues that are human issues. And to me, the economy is one hell of a woman’s issue.
I welcome your thoughts.
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