“A Diatribe Not Worth Reading”: How Women are Silenced Every Day (By Seemingly Well-intentioned Men)

So this fun little exchange cluttered up my inbox for a while the other day…I am leaving out names, because, what’s the point, my corresponder clearly is not open to dialogue…

EMAIL #1

Subject:Watch a highly skilled woman answer questions about networking [PROMISING, NO?]

Hey, Caroline

A bunch of you have been wanting to know which books I read and who I talk to, so I recently did a Q&A with Amanda Steinberg from DailyWorth. People loved it, so I wanted to give you a “softer” side of money and career material.

Today’s topic: Networking. Amanda is a master networker, plus she has an interesting perspective as a woman.

Honestly, if I were a woman for a day, beyond the seriously sordid things I would do, I would want to go into a business meeting, make a really good point, and see how people treated me. Would it be different because I was a woman? How would people react?

I point this out because some of you may have seen my recent tweet about how in early testing, 100% of my female Dream Job students who went out for networking “coffee meetings” got hit on. Clearly, there is a lot going on when it comes to gender + careers.

I found this hilarious, then sad. So today, I asked Amanda to share her stories about networking.

ATTENTION: THERE IS SOME TOUGH LOVE IN THIS INTERVIEW. If that bothers you, please go away.

Check it out (below).

R: You’re a great networker. One of the challenges many of my female Dream Job students have faced is that they get hit on when they’re networking with men. Have you noticed this in your networking?

A: Yes, it’s been a constant my entire career. And, it most likely won’t ever go away. So, women who want to be powerful executives can’t be surprised or even offended by guys who hit on us. It’s a fact of work–we have to learn how to navigate it with class, confidence and maturity. [OK, THIS IS WHERE I STOPPED READING AND STARTED GLOWERING AT MY COMPUTER SCREEN. BUT FEEL FREE TO KEEP READING, OR SKIP AHEAD TO MY RESPONSE BELOW…]

Yet, easier said than done. At a recent business dinner, a very powerful exec tried to pressure me into doing tequila shots. My first “no” was brushed off with a laugh. At dinner! It was intimidating. But I managed to hold it together and end the dinner professionally.

If it’s coming from a direct boss or someone who can fire you, that’s another story — THAT’S an abuse of power. I’ve mostly been my own boss so the hitting on usually happens inside business networks I belong to or with potential customers.

R: How do you deal with this when you’re networking?

A: Most of the dudes who hit on me aren’t clueless and sleazy — they’re top executives. It’s not just with networking — it happens with all types of deals and business relationships. I always keep the end goal in mind: long term, professional relationships. Since you love scripts — I’ll share with you the script I generally use:
“I’m so flattered that you feel that way — thank you (sincerely)……. but our business relationship is really important to me. I’m concerned that if anything happened, things would eventually get really weird between us, so I have to say no. I hope you understand.”

And they do. I like to believe that because I state it with confidence, but also warmth, I don’t lose the relationship. So far, it’s working.

R: When you were first starting out, how did you approach people? Many people don’t think they have anything to offer, so they just keep to themselves. They’ll say, “I don’t have anything to offer that guy! Why would he meet with me?”

A: OK, I’m going to sound like a big nerd here, but it’s true: I love people. Drop me into a room with 1,000 people I don’t know anytime. I go to events to meet other people and learn about them. I’m seriously just wildly interested in people’s dreams, new projects, business concepts or career aspirations. So I make friends. And then we facebook or linkedin eachother. And then, when I have a need, suddenly I have thousands of people I can email to ask. I don’t show up at events looking for anything (except back when I was raising capital — I was asking everyone for money — probably even you, Ramit) — I just go to have FUN. Conferences are so fun. And then you make friends, which very easily become business relationships when there’s a need.

R: Do you have any go-to networking scripts that consistently open doors for you?

A: Easy: “What brings you here?” Boom. Done. It takes on a life of it’s own. Recently I’ve started playing with “energy” — I look for the person in the room who emits the happiest vibe and I go directly for them. It’s a game to play — keeps me amused. I also always try to meet the organizers and thank them for putting the event together. Events are a pain to run. I’m excited to speak in two weeks at the Money2020 conference in Vegas. Not sure I should ever attend a “business event” in Vegas, but I’m committed.

R: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made while networking? What did you learn from it?

A: Oversharing. People don’t need to know every detail of my life. And yet, too often I think they do. Discretion has merit. I’m still learning about that.

R: If you had to rebuild your network from scratch, would you approach your networking any differently?

A: Never. It’s not linear. It’s totally random, chaotic and energizing. My friends are my colleagues are my friends are my investors are my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Business rules when you have a huge posse of loosely associated people rooting for you. And you do the same for them.

We all have gifts — everyone. If you don’t see your gifts — take a self-help course and learn how to quiet your harsh super ego. Self deprecation isn’t real — it’s a learned pattern. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.

_________________

EMAIL #2 – MY RESPONSE

Re: “I found this hilarious.”

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not hilarious. Sexual harassment anywhere is not hilarious. Being flip about it is not hilarious. Addressing it as a serious issue of gender inequality, one not to be “put up with” but one to have open dialogue about so that both genders come to a better understanding of it and its implications, and maybe work past the point where any person of any gender thinks it is okay to hit on someone they are interviewing, networking with, talking to, etc–that would go a long way in making it easier for women to get ahead in business.

Create a work climate, a culture, a society, a global economy, where women are, by default, given the same respect, attention and consideration as men enjoy (by current default), and we will make great strides.

Create a society where women are NOT treated–by current default–as a joke, an object for lewd fantasies, a marginalized segment of the workforce to be hit on instead of to be taken seriously.

Who starts these dialogues? People with influence. People like you.

Chose to ignore it, or joke about it, and you lose my respect, and the respect of a lot of women, because you have just dismissed a major issue which effects over 50% of the population every day.

As a woman who works in the field of gender equality on an international level, for a well-respected organization which has been fighting gender equality in all its forms for the past twenty years (and even so, our Global Director still must deal with getting hit on whenever she networks with high-level men), I ask you to listen to *my* expertise and experience, and listen carefully, when I tell you–it matters. It cannot be ignored. It cannot be marginalized, dismissed as “women’s issues.” I have seen the extremes to which gender discrimination, woman hating, can go. It starts with a lack of respect, with not taking us seriously.And I have worked mentoring young high school girls who, in order to succeed in life to their fullest potential, need all this societal brainwashing leeched out of their hearts and minds. It matters to them. It makes a difference. In the program I mentored for, with many of our young ladies coming from at-risk situations, many of them also first generation Americans, many of them first in their families to complete high school–we have a 100% college acceptance rate. (And in 2009, we were recognized by Michele Obama with a Coming Up Taller Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, distinguishing us as one of the top 15 after-school programs in the country.) It matters.

Let me say it again–it matters.

We owe it to the next generation–not just young women but young men–to be better at talking about gender issues in the workplace and in the world in general. Everyone benefits from having these conversations about outdated, misogynistic gender roles and stereotypes.

Men should not be made to feel like they need to always dominate the conversation, and that they cannot show emotion.

Women should not be made to feel they need to “act like a man” to get ahead, and ignore sexual harassment because “it’s a fact of work.” Amanda’s comment that “we have to learn to navigate it” is the wrong approach, and no solution. It puts the burden on the victim rather than addressing the actual problem, which is that it is 100% not okay for a man to hit on or otherwise harass a woman. Ever. When you advise a victim to change his or her behavior, instead of asking the perpetrator to change his/hers, that is dangerous territory. That is victim blaming. That is, quite frankly and pardon my language, f*ed up.

If you were a woman for a day, would people treat you differently? Can you have any doubt about that? If you do, I assure you that you would be horrified at how you would be treated differently as a woman.

Change starts small. As with anything. And, as with anything (again, society’s default), conversations about these things are not taken seriously by other men (and honestly, a lot of women) until they are started publicly by a man with power & following & influence. I don’t like that that’s the way the world is, but that’s the way the world is (for now).

You know how you can help people on your mailing list lead more successful, financially sound lives? Start that conversation. Or at least don’t ignore it, and don’t be flip & dismissive about it. You do a disservice to your audience by doing so. This is not something to be treated lightly. And by adding your own attempt at lewd humor (“If I were a woman for a day, beyond the seriously sordid things I would do…”) in even introducing the topic, you unfortunately negated any positive influence you had the admirable opportunity to present your readers with in that moment. Shame on you. You have a lot of interesting things to say, and I have enjoyed being on your mailing list. This, I cannot abide by, however, and I shall be unsubscribing, as you clearly have no concept of how to treat women with respect in this format.

_________________

EMAIL #3 – HIS RESPONSE – [HERE’S WHERE IT GETS FUN]

Hi Caroline,

Thanks for your note.

I’m a little surprised, since I’m pretty sure I don’t dismiss this issue considering I’ve written dozens of posts about gender, careers, and money. [WAVES FEMINIST FLAG]

If one line in one email offends you, [OH NO, IT WAS THE WHOLE THING, NOT JUST ONE LINE] that’s up to you. However, writing posts with long diatribes about gender and how things “should” be would result in exactly 0 people reading it. [SO NOT TRUE. MY FRIEND MICHELE READS *ALL* OF MY RANTS. BECAUSE SHE’S NICE & SHE LIKES ME & SH*T LIKE THIS PISSES HER OFF, TOO. SO THAT’S ONE, AT LEAST.] Sorry to see you go but I agree we’re probably not right for each other.

_________________

EMAIL #4 – MY RESPONSE TO HIS RESPONSE

Ahh, the male “expert” dismisses the female’s thoughtful response [HAD HE ACTUALLY READ MY EMAIL, HE MAY HAVE BOTHERED TO REALIZE THAT I AM AN *ACTUAL* EXPERT ON THIS TOPIC] as a “diatribe” not worth reading. Thanks for confirming my decision to leave your mailing list. Clearly the advising only goes one way. Simply writing an occasional post about gender doesn’t make you open-minded, much less any sort of feminist. If you are not willing to take into account *how* you are writing these posts, or how your (female) readers are responding to them, you are part of the problem, not the solution.

_________________

And so it goes…if this fella really wants to know what it is like to be a woman in a man’s world, as he claims he is curious about, he should put himself in my shoes in that email exchange, and that would be a start.

Every day, my expert opinions are dismissed as “feminist diatribes.” Every day, men look at me as an object to be leered at and cat called, and I just want to scream in their face, what gives you the right? Leave me the f* alone! Every day, my voice is silenced by the blathering men around me. Every day, legislators are trying to get all up in my vajayjay and tell me what I can and cannot do with it. And my opinion is written off, ignored, made to seem unimportant. Every. Day. A girl gets a little frustrated with that, you know.

Sadly, my nameless corresponder is yet another pontificating man of privilege who just wants to engage in self-congratulatory blather couched in the form of an advice column to a captive audience which he would rather didn’t talk back (or at least the ladies with their silly diatribes, responding to A POST SPECIFICALLY ABOUT LADIES).

I blocked his email. End of conversation (for him, but maybe not for some more enlightened folks currently reading this diatribe not worth reading…)

Advertisements