08 Mar International Women’s Day: This One’s for You, Fellas! Lots to Read & Do.
International Women’s Day helps focus the world on persistent gaps (no pun intended) and forces us to measure progress – or the lack of it. People love to point to women who are astronauts, news anchors, CEOs, legislative leaders, fighter pilots and even NFL assistant coaches. Let’s celebrate them all. But examples of progress on gender conceal complex patterns that should trouble us deeply and draw our attention. There are inspiring organizations all over the world moving the needle on awareness and achieving results for sure. I’ve made my own very small observations in the past about the opportunity to be a customer of women-owned businesses and about the urgency of stopping the all-male panel in its tracks by refusing to participate and blowing the whistle.
There is much for a man to think about – whether he has daughters or not so don’t look for that exhausted trope here. We also have to be about action. It is irrefutable that all of us guys are literally taking up space somewhere in our lives that but-for our male privilege would be occupied by women; but this is not merely a matter of social justice or inclusion. Men in leadership are making one significant mistake after another and to have more women in equitable roles of power and influence would make things better.
One place to start on International Women’s Day is to read what women are writing and hear what they are saying. Here is a run of links to pieces by women written for this occasion. My challenge for the guys is at the end.
The dictionary itself is struggling to keep up with change. Emma Hutchings writes that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is loaded with sexist relics, chief among them the very definition of the word ‘woman’. Hutchings cites an open letter from protestors to the dictionary’s editors published this week, citing such offenses as their listing “bitch” and “maid” as synonyms for “woman” and including what the OED calls “peremptory” uses of the word (but not “offensive,” the letter points out) as: “Don’t be daft, woman!” And “God, woman. Will you just listen?”
On Linked In I came across a powerful and practical blast of outrage and advice by start-up executive Sue Graham Johnston who refused to write what she thought was the commonly expected “progress” piece, and instead exclaimed “I’m too angry right now about the fact that things are most definitely NOT equal.” She gave a compelling account of a recent series of insults in professional dealings where people still assume a women is there to be a helper and is probably an admin – even when she is the president of the company.
A site with a progressive bent known for providing useful and empowering content for women has a serious celebrity round-up on the International Women’s Day activity of such diverse influencers as Kate Upton, Shania Twain, Meghan Markle, Gisele Bündchen, and Laura Dern. What each one of them has to say is worth seeing for yourself.
Boston based entrepreneur, CEO and civic leader Diane Hessan writes in the Boston Globe that her great grandmother was a businesswoman and “the first woman in her Pennsylvania town to drive a car” and that she feels this powerful woman’s DNA in her own body of work and in the emerging accomplishments of her daughters. Hessan writes, “We celebrate today so that our lives matter tomorrow.”
Whatever your corner of the universe is, here are my three challenges for any man who has read this far down in my piece.
1. Commit to personally being a champion for at least one woman in an organization where you are either employed or deeply connected. Not a mentor or friend – a champion. And remove barriers, vouch for her, make specific, actual things happen for her that you know men and women have done for you to help you earn your way forward in your career.
2. Make a commitment today to refuse any offer to be on a panel at a conference that has no women on it – and no, the moderator being a woman is not the same as a speaker on the panel. Just do it. This is a movement. Be part of it. Starting now.
3. Find an opportunity in an all male conversation to challenge sexist trains of thought or conversation and be the one to call it out for what it is – even if it makes you uncomfortable.
I am going to do these three and hopefully more once I read what everyone else is willing to do in order to move the world along. This is not politics or prose. We have to be better. We have to act with urgency. It is that simple.
Andy Tarsy is principal and founder of Emblem Strategic LLC, a strategy and public affairs coaching and consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.