FROM THE SANDBOX: TEDWomen. What’s Next: TEDMen? BY AXELLE TESSANDIER.December 23rd, 2010 by Sandbox
Every day, our community manager, Noor Bin Ladin, reads through her feed of all Sandboxers’ blog posts. Every week, she chooses the most inspiring, funny or brilliant ones and reposts them on this blog. This post was written by Sandboxer Axelle Tessandier for ReadWriteWeb France – find the original post in French here. Follow Axelle on Twitter.
There are pages I wish I never appear on. Only because I don’t see how it gives me more credibility or because it doesn’t feel like such a nice tribute, strangely… How difficult it is for the woman I am (writing those words hurts me already you know) to admit that I prefer to be in tech rather than a “Girl in Tech”. For weeks I have wanted to write about this, without really being able to do so. First, just by fear of offending initiatives I respect. Also, it was not easy for me to know why it didn’t resonate with who I am. But the TEDWomen Conference in December 7th and 8th was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Already, when I heard about it earlier this year, one couldn’t say I was very enthusiastic…
There are many causes I partake in a purely personal capacity, that, for me, do not require a collective assertion. This said I don’t feel that this makes them less visible, but just more obvious.
Personal derives from “person” as you may have noticed. It is perfectly fine for me to be defined by this, and only by this term.
I could list line after line the number of talks and analysis on the web and beyond that describe the “horror” of the situation, for “us”, women in our professional lives.
In France especially, equality is just an illusion: we rank 46th rank in The World Economic Forum’s 2010 gender equality report and the cliches are scathing.
I swear, I tried to agree, to be revolted. But no, it’s a lost cause, I just don’t get it.
The expression “to have it all” with the image of Wonderwoman juggling between her different obligations seems to have become a cliche as well.
I must confess, that maybe it is easier to think like that from my point of view, since I don’t have any children to take care of.
But honestly, I think the situation will not be presented to me in these terms. It is not in my professional life that you find the sinews of war. I never consider myself as a woman in my public sphere (the professional life) but as a human being. My private sphere is another matter.
If I had to play the battle of the sexes, it would not be to make the feminine gender the big winner but to reassure men of their rights to claim and expect more for themselves. Yes, you read that right: “none will succeed if we don’t change our expectations for men. Or, more accurately, men’s expectations for themselves.”
“Mr Mom” could appear as a journalistic gadget, but it has the merit of reversing the debate. And suddenly, I feel more concerned. Yes, we can all hope to “have it all”, even the ones we don’t think about when we use this terminology.
The word “we” therefore loses all meaning for me. “We want to have it all”, you, me, period. The succession of women during TEDWomen using this pronoun every two minutes made me feel really uncomfortable, as much as if a man were to do the same. Of course, we could create conferences and discuss these facts and issues time and time again, choose the women network strategy as a support and strike force, even when it turns out that it is actually one of the main problems in the professional sphere. Yes, we always prefer to work with someone from our own gender unconsciously as Sharon Vosmek, ASTIA’s CEO, explains in this article on the lack of Women in the Silicon Valley: “Women tend to network with women, and men tend to network with men[...]. It plays out on the golf course, in the boardroom and it’s certainly playing out in high-growth entrepreneurship.”
A network of women to fight our natural tendency, regardless of gender, to network between us….”Meta” comes to mind. Facts focusing on the unfairness are as numerous as the ones reminding the world how more women are wonderful in a professional environment .
Mixed teams are actually more successful in Information Technology Patenting Creation and innovation circulates all round as affirms the founder of Illuminate Ventures, that only invests in Startup managed by women. Awesome…
Having to repeat oneself more than twice to be sure to be heard is either a bad sign or an inefficient method. So, I will stop here because, from my side, these facts do not passionate me. It does not mean I ignore them. It is just I have never asked myself the question this way.
I can decide that the essential is somewhere else and stop questioning the obvious
In general, I am not someone who loves to press where it hurts while trying to find thousands of good reasons except the ones we provoke by ourselves without even thinking about it. Yes, I confess, “deresponsilization” is a tendency that I do not like. External realities are factors on which I do not have as much control. But there is a certain behavior that allows me to not totally lose the game: like claiming chance is not a concept but an attitude. Many women in this Time’s list of «the 25 Most Powerful Women Of the Past Century had the intelligence to grab the moment and to believe, not in what they were supposed to represent for others, but in the image they wanted to create for themselves. Without being embarrassed by the facts they faced off. Just by being, doing. It was a great pleasure to go through their portraits, not because they were amazing women, but very inspiring people, that did great things. I guess the fact they are women was printed in my mind in the same time, without really thinking about it.
It is when we stop to think about it that change occurs I think, or appear not as facts but as a simple reality. Like this recent discovery many of us tweeted: yes, the number of women in a group is linked to effectiveness in solving difficult problems. But what I prefer in this story is it was absolutely not what the scientists were trying to prove. Only when analyzing the data did the co-authors suspect that the number of women in a group had significant predictive power: ”We didn’t design this study to focus on the gender effect. That was a surprise to us.”
Seeing how obvious this is, is what brings confidence naturally, even more for my generation. I do not see how to stop the devil’s loop if in my professional sphere, I spend my life to signaling that, before being indispensable or excellent, I am a woman. There is an inevitable « mirror effect» if I define myself in this way. Difficulties that I had to take on in this environment were never related to the fact I was a woman, but had more to do with my personality.
I never had doubts because I was a woman, more fragile, less smart or prepared. But once again, we arrive in a very subjective area, related to our own careers. I understand perfectly what the founder of Women 2.0 wants to express when she explains: “People don’t know they can be a good entrepreneurs until they try. This program is allowing people to try out their ideas and their skills.”
But this statement could be made as well for men and women, don’t you think?
I never ask myself if I will be discriminated against, but instead if I can be better in my job than anybody else. Recently, we heard of someone who had become indispensable… woman or man, who cares: it is the $6 million engineer.
I never ask myself whether I will suffer from prejudices, because if it’s not something I take into consideration, I believe I multiply the chances that it is exactly the same for my interlocutor. That’s why I really love the answer of Safra Gatz, Oracle’s co-president to the question on the main barrier to female leadership: “The most significant barrier to female leadership is the actual lack of females in leadership. The best advice I can give to women is to go out and start something, ideally their own businesses. If you can’t see a path for leadership within your own company, go blaze a trail of your own.
But we are not all equal on this level. We all have different career pathways but also personalities and educations. Tradition has long dictated that scientific and technological studies we reserved for men for example. Education is the real question.
Learning to seize opportunities
Everything is determined well before in my opinion, before integrating an association or a women network.
I was invited a few weeks ago to fundraising event for the association Akili Dada in which one of my friends in San Francisco is involved. Why was it important for me to support this association that «nurtures the next
generation of African women leaders» when the idea of a feminine cause doesn’t resonate in me? It absolutely is not the same fight for me. Akili Dada teaches young girls that they can seize opportunities when they have integrated so well the idea they have to be married away when money starts lacking at home.
I was supporting a struggle for education because in many countries, the stakes for women are on another level than a fight for professional recognition.
Education is capital and it seems to me I had access to it in the best conditions. I feel lucky anyway. The rest is a question of attitude, not a quota.
Education in your family environment and your school systems but also some public policies are definitely meaningful tools. We have all heard the many examples from Scandinavian countries.
I don’t believe women will advance the cause of women. I think society will move forward, women included.
I don’t question the existence of women networks, especially in an areas such as new technologies. I am sure it is necessary for many women to use the collective force to obtain a personal evolution. Self-confidence, we always come back to the same point.
But I can’t stop thinking that when the glass ceiling and the under-representation of women in innovation are the main problems, it’s already a luxury.
A video in particular really annoyed me during the conference of TEDWomen: «I have a voice». The next day, I was listening to a radio show on human trafficking of young prostitutes next door to where I live. Yes, I was shocked and revolted. Not as a woman, but as a human being.