I traveled to attend some great events this fall. At home, my family’s looking for a church. And of course, I write a women’s blog.
Because of these things, I’ve been thinking a lot lately (and again) about women in the workplace, in leadership, on the podium–about representation, and diversity, and why it matters.
Let’s talk about one of those events I attended for a minute.
Last month, I attended Story Chicago. I thought it was worthwhile, but as I said in my recap post, “I wish the presenters had been more diverse. I believe that’s important, and was disappointed that only one woman presented on the main stage.”
(I didn’t used to think that kind of thing was important. Now I do.)
But Story founder Ben Arment left a comment on that post that surprised me and sent my thoughts aswirling: Story invited the women, and the women didn’t come. He said:
We strive for diversity each year. I know the fruit of it wasn’t evident this year, but I assure you we tried… hard….
Believe it or not, we invited no fewer than 12 diverse presenters who declined to speak for one reason or another. People who aren’t conference organizers can’t seem to fathom this, but getting worthwhile presenters to say yes is no easy task… especially with our limited budget and our growing but still-developing clout. We can ask, but they have to say yes….
I was disappointed we didn’t have more women. Again, we asked. They declined.
I can’t figure out what to do with this.
I would have liked to have told those women, the ones who stayed home: Of course you have to do what is best for you and for your family. And if that means staying home, then stay home.
But, I also would like to say to those women: We needed you to show up. Where were you?
Those ideas don’t reconcile.
Where does that leave us?
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There’s evidence that the cultural tides are shifting, even as the number of women in some fields is declining. This anecdote portrays a game-changing mindset becoming more prevalent in corporate America:
Smart companies are thinking differently. They are recognizing that the inherent differences among genders and cultures are not things to be fixed, but are instead sources of strength. It is exactly these differences that drive the higher returns, lower volatility and greater innovation that accrue to more diverse companies. Smart companies will embrace and draw on these differences.
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If smart organizations are thinking differently, how are they getting the women to show up? (This problem isn’t unique to Story Chicago; Sheryl Sandberg wrote about it extensively in Lean In.)
95% of MMD readers are women. Friends, I’m asking you: what would make it easier for you to show up? For some of you, this is a very practical question, for others it’s hypothetical.
Whichever category you fall under, tell me: what are the obstacles that keep you from “showing up,” and what would make it easier for you to do so?