Last week’s 13th annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women did everything it set out to do. A sold-out crowd of 9,000 attendees packed the Convention Center to listen to and be inspired by an all-star, motivating lineup of keynotes from Olympic athlete Abby Wambach to writer and actor Mindy Kaling. Annie Clark and Anita Hill gave speeches that shook the city. Small-business owners made their fever pitches to QVC and zulily judges endeavoring to make it big. Women from all over the state networked, socialized and shared best practices.
So, why did I leave the event questioning my role as a feminist?
A majority of the day channeled everyone’s Rosie the Riveter but there was just one too many patronizing moments.
Throughout the day women asked for guidance on how to prove one’s value, to fit in, to stand out in a board room, to ask for a promotion, to have it all, and importantly, how to compete with the boys.
Don’t we know how to do this by now?
There was also a breakout session titled: Why Your Fluctuating Moods are a Strength, not a Weakness. Standing.Room.Only.
Wharton Professor Adam Grant’s speech and a panel titled Gender Partnership: Engaging Men As Advocates to Pioneer Gender Equity were worth their salt. The irony of these male-led sessions at a women’s conference was not lost on me.
I’m among the youngest of the Gen Xers, making me part of the first decade that grew up without unconscious bias toward gender. My Irish twin brother had to fold laundry as a chore while I took the garbage outside. When a boy threw a ball at me in the schoolyard, my mom didn’t say it was because he liked me – she told me to throw it right back if it happened again. I was the leader of many male-dominated groups and classes in college. I bested male candidates in competitive job searches. I’ve been privileged to have supportive male bosses and mentors. And I now work at the city’s largest women-owned strategic communications agency.
Because of all this, I simply could not relate to many of the issues raised at the conference. We went from not having the right to vote to having a woman run for the highest job in all of the lands. And we’re talking about mood swings and bubble baths?
Today’s women are unequivocally beneficiaries of all those women that walked before us, leaving shards of glass in their path. We owe it to those trailblazing, knowledgeable, rule-breaking women to evolve their mission, not to rest on their laurels and use gender as a crutch.
The woman card should flat out be removed from the playing deck. Some practices that could aid in its retirement:
- Stop being so offended. Not everything that is said has a secret agenda or is trying to undermine credibility. There’s a powerful vulnerability in not taking yourself so seriously. For it is in those moments that the best collaboration and work product happens.
- A dual personality is not a disorder. Female leaders can be hard charging, decisive and not suffer any fools. Add to that list kind and optimistic.
- Candor enables success. Sugarcoating sends mixed signals. Constructive, frank and open feedback helps employees improve and brings success to the overall team.
- Heroes fail. Not all women wear Wonder Woman capes. The road to success can seem long, bumpy and uphill, but people learn the most after failure. Risk means opportunity.
- Put your oxygen mask on first. Givers, takers and matchers make up the professional world. Givers are the most successful performers and tend to be women. But, they have to be deliberate in doing what's best for them in the short-term so they can endure the long run.
- Don’t apologize. What are you sorry for? For working hard and for being overly prepared? One establishes validity by being able to contribute in a meaningful way.
- Confidence is entitlement. And that’s okay. You earned your seat at the table; it wasn’t gifted to you. Stretch out your elbows a bit.
- Self-advocacy is an unfair burden. But it’s a necessary one. It’s up to you to raise awareness of your strengths and accomplishments and, ultimately, the value it adds to the company. Who else could do it better than you?
It’s hard to talk about gender equality with a wage gap. The chief administration officer from the conference’s presenting sponsor, a change driver herself, reminded attendees of some staggering statistics. In 2015, female full-time workers made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. Over time, those lost wages add up to $700,000 for high school graduates, $1.2 million for college graduates and $2 million for professional degrees.
We’re estimated to reach pay equity by 2059. That’s just simply too long to wait.
Natalie is Karma’s Group Account Director. She believes that a gentleman should hold the door for a lady and that women should take out the garbage.