Let's Put an End to 'Women-In-Whatever' Events Are women-centric undertakings actually doing more harm than good?
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What would happen if I started a LinkedIn group called "Men in SaaS?" How about "Men in Sales?" Or, what about "Men in Business?"
I'm almost afraid to even put this out there, but am I the only woman who is tired of being invited to the "women in (fill in the blank)" groups, Slack channels and networking events? The reason I'm hesitant to even write this is that I know the intentions of the people who are spearheading these activities are noble. However, I can't help but wonder if these women-centric undertakings are actually doing more harm than good.
Let's look at the facts. Women are significantly underrepresented in nearly every aspect of the business world. CEB data shows that, globally, women represent only 30 percent of first- and mid-level sales management roles, and 20 percent of department head or general manager type roles. CNN reported that only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women. Really, just 14.2 percent? Where are all of the women?
I don't want to attend your women in sales event. I do, however, want to attend your sales leadership, sales management or sales strategy events. The qualifier of being a woman is no more important than any other aspect or characteristic that separates me from my colleagues.
I'm not being invited to groups called "Parents in Business" or "Former Educators in Tech." Yet I meet people every day who are parents who have exciting business careers and former educators who have transitioned into the world of tech. And yet, I'd say those two details about me -- the fact that I'm a parent (of twins, no less) and the fact that I started my career as a high school English teacher -- have significantly helped shape the sales leader and business professional I am today.
Sure, I'm also a woman, but the only thing about my gender that I believe distinguishes me in my job is that there frankly aren't enough of us, so I'm far more memorable when you meet me among a sea of men in slacks and blue checkered shirts. Also, I'm passionate, bold and a little mouthy. People tend to remember that.
I was at SaaStr Annual at the beginning of this year (a must-attend by the way if you work in software-as-a-service), and I couldn't go anywhere without someone asking me, "Are you Claudia? Theresa? Janet?" Insert a multitude of other female names. The fact is, people kept asking if I was any of these other women, and there were so few of us that the odds were in their favor that I just might be the woman they were looking for. Where were all of the savvy female SaaS leaders?
I spoke as a panelist at a sales leadership event a few months ago (the only woman on the panel), and I could count on one hand the number of women at this event -- and two were there because I had invited them. Where were all of the female sales leaders?
Men: If you really want to help encourage more women in sales, technology and leadership roles stop seeing women as being different. Stop planning industry events and outings that blatantly cater to men. Don't think this is still happening? I have first-hand experience of being at a business development "after event" that transitioned to a strip club. Nothing against strip clubs. To each their own. But seriously? Keep that outing off of your business networking agenda.
Women: If you want to be seen as equals, stop perpetuating this idea that women are so different that they need their own special business groups. That means no more networking events in nail salons. Really. And while we keep getting together to talk about the challenges we face as women in business, women in sales, women in tech, are we honestly making an impact? Or, are we perpetuating the very silo from which we are trying to escape?
When it comes to community and female bonding (which I wholeheartedly agree is important), I have a mom, I have aunts and cousins and I have kick-ass girlfriends who I can go to when I need support as a woman.
I don't need men to start female initiatives and women-in-whatever groups. I just need the women to start showing up.