I had the wonderful opportunity to attend SOCAP in San Francisco — a 3,000-person conference with over 100 sessions on social capital markets. A big theme was gender lens investing, or choosing investments based on gender equality rankings.
I consider myself a pretty committed feminist so I attended these forums with much excitement, anticipating the announcement of break-through approaches for uniting women and men once and for all.
Disappointment didn’t take long to set in.
What I heard instead was an outdated feminism — the post-WW2 feminism of the late 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s full of anger and divisiveness — still rearing its ugly, dying fist.
My parents’ feminism was all about extremism. It had to be. Women had to go big or go home. They had to make themselves a force to be reckoned with. Out of this feminism stemmed the lesbian revolution and man-haters, and even many of the straight women were butch in both look and action. Women fought for the right to hold high-paying jobs and be equally compensated. Women fought for the right to gain professional success and earn their own money. These women had to show the world they were serious, and subtlety was not their weapon of choice.
While there are still frighteningly grim statistics about how many women entrepreneurs get funded compared to men (60%), what women earn compared to men (80%), and how many women invest their money DIY compared to men (32%), the landscape has evolved dramatically since Rosie. Hillary Clinton is ran for president, we have 3 women on the Supreme Court, and 60% of the expected millennial wealth transfer is slated to go into the hands of women.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge Rosie fan. It’s just that 60 years later we need a new hero.
We need someone who reflects the diversity of the people who are begging for change — the people who are disempowered when women are disempowered — and they’re not just women anymore.
We also need a new message.
We need a framework built around shared responsibility and positive reinforcement. Women and men are BOTH accountable for our current state of gender imbalance. Women and men would BOTH benefit from positive reinforcement of desired behaviors rather than competition.
One challenge with the current framework is that the majority of women-in-business activists are women. As such the movement risks putting men on the defensive.
We’ve only been around a couple hundred thousand years — a drop in the bucket of enlightenment. We’re not all that evolved yet. You beat me, I beat you back.
Timeless self-help traditions will counsel that once someone feels attacked, his or her pride will rarely let he or she change positions. The primal cycle of attack and defend keeps us chugging down the road to nowhere fast. Disrupting this cycle by celebrating positive behaviors rather than scorning undesirable ones could lead the movement to more buy-in, faster.
Men still control the majority of capital in the US so it is primarily men who are being asked to change.
If men see a pack of women charging toward them at lightning speed trying to “redirect” their money, they’ll likely run the other direction with a quickness. And, let’s be honest — women would do the same.
As Dale Carnegie has enumerated for almost 80 years, the only way to get someone to change is to make them want to.
I’m not a genius by any stretch of the imagination, though I have learned that people usually respond well to being celebrated.
Another challenge with the current framework is that it centers around pitting women and men against each other. One gender lens investor and advocate claims that women are more likely [than men] to meet their milestones. First Round Capital claims that women are winning and cites that companies with a female founder outperform all-male teams by 63%. Illuminate Ventures claims that the high-tech companies women build are more capital-efficient than the norm — that the average venture-backed company run by a woman has achieved comparable early-year revenues, using an average of one-third less committed capital.
While these statistics are commendable, the public relations strategy leaves much to be desired. Most of the language is just plain competitive. Women are winning. Women are better. Men perform worse.
The hamster wheel of blame is not just silly, it’s completely ineffective. As box-office heroine Katniss Everdeen discovers in The Hunger Games finale, the leaders of rebellions usually become the same autocrats they seek to destroy.
Competition alienates important allies. Business feminists could make progress a lot faster by building partnerships rather than competitors.
Female entrepreneurs could show the world they are successful without putting their counterparts down. Male entrepreneurs could be thinking, Just because my team is all-male doesn’t mean we will fail; Just because we don’t have a woman in a leadership position doesn’t mean we don’t believe women make fantastic leaders.
Consider the reasons a male entrepreneur might end up in said position: less females in tech (a STEM problem, not a business problem); higher likelihood of being friends with other men (the same can be said for women); and higher likelihood of running large companies, which in turn have higher wage discrepancies (regardless of the sex of the leader).
In fact, organizations dedicated to advancing the role of women in business often seem to be strangely void of men in the C-suite. For example, The Women’s Foundation of California boasts 1 man on its 20-person team and Women Moving Millions has none. And according to this study, women entrepreneurs average an 80% female staff while male entrepreneurs only average a 70% male staff.
While I don’t argue with the moving statistics that describe gender inequality in the workplace (for example, women apply for jobs when they meet 100% of qualifications while men apply when they only meet 60%), women are guilty of the same prejudices and stereotypes (about women) as men. In this Harvard Business School study showing that male entrepreneurs get funded more often than females with the exact same pitch, what’s not highlighted is the fact that half of the study’s participants were female.
Women are also co-conspirators in the alienation of men from family life. This idea offers one explanation as to why men have charged so hard into the business world. Julian Redwood’s Full Frontal Fatherhood website speaks on alienation from a father’s perspective. He asks moms to support dads’ deeper engagement in family by not stepping in to solve problems immediately. Instead, he posits, dads can figure it out if they are given the time, space, and respect to do it in their own way, at their own pace.
I am not suggesting that women be less assertive in business (or elsewhere). I am very aware that this double-standard (assertive men seen as leaders and assertive women seen as bossy) has long been a challenge for women’s advancement in the workplace. However I have also seen that in order to compensate, many women do go too far over the line of assertiveness and really do become bossy.
And woman, man, beast, or between, no one wants to work with a bossy person.
Instead of competing to outperform men, I hope women in business will consider positively reinforcing some of the desired male archetypes, like Andy Lower from A Different Approach to Poverty and Joseph Keefe from Pax World Management.
Andy is leading the way to a new business reality for both women and men via a new white paper: Working with Women Social Entrepreneurs: Four Transformative Questions Male Investors Need to Ask.
Joe has chaired Women Thrive Worldwide, been honored with the UN’s prestigious Women’s Empowerment Principles Leadership Award, and been named by Financial Times as one of its top ten feminist men.
Let’s stop quibbling with each other and turn our collective attention toward some slightly more serious threats like water and poverty.
We’re like the Lannisters and Starks fighting each other while the White Walkers descend from on-high and kill us all, smiling because we were too caught up in our tiny prides to see them coming.
Trying to prove why investing in women is better than investing in men isn’t progress, it’s revenge.
I’m not interested in vengeance. I’m interested in reconciliation (through shared accountability of the past) and partnership (based on positive reinforcement) so we can all start figuring out how to drink salt-water.