I am girl. I am smart. For 50% of the population, there the story ends. I'm afraid that for the other 50%, it's really rather more complicated than that. And here's why.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO presents a wonderful TEDWomen talk on 3 points. Sit at the Table. Make your partner a real partner. Don't leave before you leave. You can see the talk in its 14 minute entirety below, it's worth watching.
So.There are a number of issues here, for me. One, on the right hand side of the page where this talk is embedded on TED's website, other recommended videos are listed. When I looked, not one was by a woman. Which, okay, is fair enough, it's probably a random alogorithm generated listing. But all the same it would have been nice if...
Two. What is she actually saying, and in the process of listening did you check out her shoes, how she looked, what she was wearing and that her hair is immaculate but her nose is most definitely not LA? I'm guessing so. Like @fredgarnett on Twitter, did you make an assessment of her as a woman and conclude that she was a masculinised woman, who'd had to 'cross over to the other side' to become a COO? And if you did, do you have any concept of how insulting that is, not only to her, but to every other woman who quietly and secretly wishes they could be standing where she is?
I am cute and fluffy. So, I suspect, is Sheryl. 5 year old kids don't tend to cling on to women who are not cute and fluffy when with their children, on leaving them to get on a plane. So what I actually suspect has happened here, is that someone has made an assumption based on nothing more than either her job title, or the way she dresses. (I should state clearly here that Fred's assessment is based on an anti-capitalist stance and not an anti-women one and that I like the bloke really rather a lot and respect him enormously). A common occurence I suspect.
The problem is, cute and fluffy means, as Sheryl has excellently pointed out, you get second place behind those not so cute and fluffy. It means you take someone at face value when they say 'only 2 more questions' and out of politeness and the wish to adhere to societal norms, lower your hand, meaning other people's questions get answered and other people's names are on people's radars, not yours. Cute and fluffy means everyone knows you care, and so take full advantage of that, meaning you end up doing ridiculous amounts of work on a voluntary basis, to discover that the person who asked you to do it did have some funding but it went to less cute and fluffy people than you, because they refused to do something for free. It means you are not taken seriously, you are not sat at the table, you are not in the loop, you are not listened to, you do not receive conference invites, you do not get asked to shape policies and strategies despite knowing much more than those writing them in some cases thanks for personal life experience.
Instead, what happens, and I speak from 15 years experience here, what happens is you are humoured, token gestured at, doors are held open for you, people's attention wanders off and you don't call people on it, you are ignored entirely and practically walked into, it is always assumed you will take notes be it your job or not, you will always be the one making tea or coffee, whether you manage a team of 15 or not, and you will always and I do mean always feel patronised or invisible at least once a day and usually more.
Cute and fluffy does not win. When guys moan that nice guys don't get the girl, I usually react in one of two ways. Utter irritation or with a reply along the lines of 'then stop going for the girls you wouldn't be happy with if you got them anyway'. So, through discussions with assorted people this morning including @rich_w, @emmamaier, @curiousc (whose blog post sparked some of this), @fredgarnett and finally @mmarymckenna (who also contributed to some epiphanies this morning with this post on what the world looks like as CEO of a start-up.) I have come to some conclusions of my own.
- I need to stop whining
- Cute and fluffy doesn't win. Somehow I need to balance that with morals, ethics, politeness and confidence, belief and determination whilst never verging into arrogance. How on earth do you do that?
- Women, in general, do not leave their hands up. Whatever the reasons for this, it's putting us on a back foot in any number of situations. Leave your goddamn hand up.
- If you know the answer to a question, answer it.
- Decide what you want to do, stop bloody dithering and just focus 100% on getting it.
- Things will go wrong. CBT asks the question, what's the worst that can happen? What actually is the worst that can happen? Failure. Pfeh, been there, done that.
- Work out how to balance a need to follow with a curiosity about leading, and work out if 'I'm not old enough yet' is an excuse or a reality.
- Pass what I've learned so far on to as many women as possible and pick up girls who are strong and determined and opinionated and help as much as I can with retweets and replies and help and connections.
- Push, as hard as I can, relentlessly and determinedly, for some kind of mentoring system for women, over and above one for social mobility.
- Accept I am cute and fluffy, but also smart and curious and stop beating myself up for being me and just accept it and work around it. But also accept that image is everything whether I like it or not, and first impressions count and I must ensure always to remember that.
- Learn to hide my emotions, not to stop feeling them.
- Stop being embarrased when people pay compliments ansd definitely stop being embarrased about liking to think, ask questions, explore, probe and dance on the edges. No man would ever dream of apologising for any of those things, so why the hell do I think I need to?