It started out fine. Interesting, high-powered women invited to a lovely luncheon sponsored by a financial services firm. A panel of three women who are outstanding leaders in the hospitality industry. Beautiful setting, tasty food — it seemed as if it would be all good.
So why did I flee an hour later, rudely walking out before the event was over? There were two main problems.
First, it seemed that none of the speakers had thought about the message she hoped to communicate to the women in the audience. The highly accomplished panelists told amusing stories about their careers, but I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t hear any useful pointers about how to thrive in a highly competitive, male-dominated industry. There was not one takeaway I could use to help myself or my clients navigate our careers.
The second problem was worse than the first. One of the panelists told a story of how a colleague had advised her that she would be more successful if she was more of a “whore.” He meant she should be willing to endorse products she didn’t really believe in. She explained why she would not sacrifice her integrity or her brand to make an extra buck. So far so good. But then she went on to say, “A man would have done it.” Later on, another panelist talked about how women fix problems and men just delegate.
It’s easy to get in a room of people you assume are like-minded and immediately start commiserating by ragging on the other half. Had a man made the same sweeping generalizations, however, I wouldn’t have been the only one standing up and walking out.
While women may think punching back is our due for catching so much negativity, perpetuating stereotypes does nothing to further our cause. In fact, it diminishes us. It’s time to knock it off.
I’ve been to scads of women’s networking events that were spectacular and valuable to their attendees. They helped women make connections and learn techniques for managing our careers where the deck is stacked against us. The one thing they all had in common: They treated women like professionals. Our time is just as valuable as any man’s, and our events require the same preparedness and focus so the audience can walk out inspired and armed with meaningful information. At the best events, speakers knew what message they wanted to get across and didn’t devolve into “boys vs. girls” rhetoric.
It’s no secret that women have to do extra work to get the same recognition as a man. So women especially should know, we can’t afford to waste each other’s time.