What keeps women from showing up? Your answers.

What keeps women from showing up? Your answers.

What keeps women from showing up? | Modern Mrs Darcy

A little while ago, I asked a question: what keeps women from showing up?

I’d recently attended a conference that was very good, but lacked strong female representation from the stage. The conference organizers explained that women had been invited, but they’d turned down the invitations.

I wanted to know why.

Since 95% of MMD readers are female, I asked you to tell me the obstacles that kept YOU from showing up–to conferences, meetings, and other opportunities for growth, be they local or non-, personal or professional–and what would make it easier for you to do so.

(Go read that post for context. It’s short, it won’t take long. We’ll wait.)

For some of you, this is a practical question; for others, it’s hypothetical.

Your answers were diverse, but common themes emerged.

6 reasons came up over and over again. I’ve isolated these reasons to make discussion easier, but they obviously bleed into each other.

The Big 6 reasons that keep women from showing up, not in order: 

1. Expense. Plain old economics keeps many women at home. Travel is expensive. Childcare is expensive. If it’s an extracurricular event, missing work is expensive.

2. Small children at home. Young kids–especially nursing infants–are a major obstacle to showing up. And travel is practically impossible in late pregnancy and immediately postpartum.

3. Mother guilt. Many mothers are hesitant to leave their families–whether it’s just for an evening or for a longer stint–to pursue their own thing, whether it’s for work or for personal reasons.

4. Logistics. Many women said that leaving town for a few days requires a military-grade level of planning and execution.

5. Lack of energy. Sheer exhaustion keeps many women from saying “yes” to more opportunities, especially if there’s travel involved. Attending events of any kind requires preparation, attendance, and–especially for the introverts–a recovery period afterward. If travel is required, women are even less likely to say yes.

6. Lack of help. I was surprised at how many women cited unsupportive or unhelpful spouses as a major barrier to showing up. Less surprising was how many women said showing up would be much easier if they had family nearby or a more robust support network.

While the Big 6 were the most commonly cited reasons, others were mentioned repeatedly:

Other significant factors:

Ageism. Discrimination on the basis of age was cited numerous times.

Tokenism. Women don’t want to say yes when it’s clear they’re being invited as a “token” woman just to meet a quota.

Personality. For many people it’s a stretch to meet new people, travel, or (whatever it is that’s hard for them) unless it’s absolutely necessary. If they don’t see it as such, they stay home.

Lack of opportunity. Numerous commenters said they never received invitations to show up–despite impressive resumés–because they were the wrong gender, wrong age, wrong marital status, or had the wrong background.

No clear benefits. If the reasons for saying yes aren’t obvious and tangible, there’s no getting to “yes.”

We’ll talk soon about why women DO choose to say yes, but in the meantime…

What do you think about these reasons? Do they ring true?

PS: Women, work, and hockey. And black, white, and grey.

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24 comments

  1. Betsy says:

    These reasons ring true for me, especially finances, mother guilt, and logistics, especially when travelling is involved. (Sometimes the chaos you find at home on your return makes it seem not worth it.)

    Your post rings true for me because just this week I was invited to attend a personal development conference, EXPENSES PAID, but I turned it down because my husband had plans to attend a separate event this same week. It never occurred to me to ask if I could go instead. I don’t resent it, but it’s a fact. 🙂

    Ocassionally I’m asked to give talks or teach classes, but the “cost” of preparation is so high when most of my free time must be used to prepare. A few years ago I taught a six week class, which I loved, but I turned down the second opportunity because I felt I lacked the energy and time. (Sorry to write a book here.)

  2. The issue of ageism is especially relevant given the first set of factors that include child care and mommy guilt. A woman’s childbearing years are some of the busiest of her life but once she has passed them, she’s too old for people to find her relevant. Men probably also face a bit of ageism but unlike women, they are building their careers in their 20s and 30s. By the time they have reached the point where people may reject them because of age, they’ve already established themselves as “experts.” In this way, a man’s age acts differently for him than a woman’s age does.

    • 'Becca says:

      Relative to this, I think most employers are far more likely to make adjustments for expectant and new mothers than for expectant and new fathers. My partner tried to refuse to make a business trip when our son was 3 months old, and his boss simply would not accept it–he had to make the trip or lose the job–whereas his colleague easily got out of the trip by telling the boss her 2-year-old was breastfeeding so she couldn’t be away overnight.

      I think that making adjustments for parents of both sexes is appropriate, and that one of the things that’s truly sexist about many workplaces is that men can’t make these adjustments even if they try–so their careers may end up benefiting at their families’ expense more than they would choose.

        • When I was in college I worked part-time in the HR dept of a big corporation, and one of the employees took a few days off because his childcare routine was disrupted by a death of a distant relative (his babysitter was his cousin or something who had to attend the funeral out of state), and he was written up for missing work because of it! The three years I worked there, I never saw a woman chastised for taking time off for childcare – instead women got “oh that’s too bad, we understand, take your time”. The resentment that system created was just awful.

  3. Jamie says:

    This list feels right on target for me – even those of us (introverts especially) without kids get derailed from showing up by the sheer cost and time investment required to work out the logistics, survive the travel, and then recover from high intensity events.

    The former Hospitality Management professional in my head can’t help but think that there’s a fantastic business opportunity for a company smart enough to go after it in comprehensive event planning and supportive travel services built around the needs of working parents. Then again, just getting the airlines to run on time and offer tickets for less than a king’s ransom would be a really good start!!

  4. Mary B. says:

    Such a great post. I am a stay-at-home mother to a toddler with another child due in June, so I can’t comment on the working-woman experience. However, I have very much wanted to return to school to take the necessary classes/apprenticeships to become a licensed electrician (don’t laugh, I discovered after getting my B.A. that I prefer more hands-on work). Financially, we can afford for me to receive the training. But…my closest family is 600 miles away and there is simply no one to watch the child(ren) while I’m at class.

    My husband is great and very supportive of my dreams–but when I return home after an evening out with friends, our daughter is often still awake waiting to have her teeth brushed and to be tucked in. My husband is happy to babysit her, but often doesn’t “parent” her. Whether at home or away, I am still pretty much responsible for making sure all parenting duties. And that alone can be quite overwhelming.

    • Betsy says:

      Mary, I found that to be the case too. (I mean your husband babysitting, but your returning to find “parenting” tasks undone.) I also find it super-stressful to return home to many tasks undone.

    • 'Becca says:

      My child’s father will take good care of the child and do all the things that should be done with/for him, but he is overwhelmed by this and “forgets” to do things like clean up dirty dishes. Coming home to a messy house is stressful for me and gives me that same feeling of “he can’t manage on his own” which then makes it tempting to stick around making sure things are managed.

      I think the only solution is to persist in going over what needs to be done, expecting it to get done, and expressing our disappointment when it isn’t. Over time, I’ve seen him improve on the things I persistently ask for, while the things that I let go never get any better but continue to bother me just as much!

  5. One thing that’s interesting here is that (I think) we’re talking about showing up to a Big Thing. I think women show up all the time! But in ways that may not look big. I meet with local writers for drinks & informational interviews, spend time answering writers just starting out who email me for advice, etc. It feels more real to me, more helpful, than attending a large conference.

    Part of this is personality driven — there’s a reason why I’m a WAHM who writes — and huge crowds of strangers aggressively networking make me want to hide in my hotel room. It’s hard to connect in a crowd. And fake icebreakers are the worst — I don’t want to waste time “connecting” via sharing digital business cards! It’s like the worst bar scene ever.

    I’d be FAR more willing to attend local meetups, more regional conferences, or just *smaller* conferences that tried to connect people more at every level (horizontally and vertically), instead of hitting up conferences that just dazzle with speakers and swag bags. Doesn’t mean that I’m not showing up — I just have better things to do than feel lost in the crowd.

    Women like me aren’t looking for the Big Thing. We just want to find kindred spirits, and make connections that last longer than the conference notes.

    • Anjanette says:

      Melissa, this really rings true for me as well. In my case I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to my four kids, some with special needs. I am fairly introverted and also very busy with family, so the payoff to attend, coordinate, or speak at a conference would not typically be enough for me personally to make it worthwhile. BUT, especially as I have become more experienced at parenting/homeschooling/navigating special needs issues, I make a deliberate effort to help out, mentor, or just listen as much as I can when I interact in person or online with others in the same boat. On a daily basis, that might mean spelling a tired mom on the playground, emailing lists of resources, curriculum, or strategies to new homeschoolers or moms of newly diagnosed kids, or being there for another parent who could use a sympathetic ear instead of reading while I’m in the waiting room during my kids’ speech and OT therapy sessions. Conferences are great for many, but from my experience on both the giving and receiving ends, I’ve seen that a commitment to showing up in smaller ways has tremendous value too.

      • I also think that stats that say “women do X” or even “women bloggers do X” may forget that for so many homemaking bloggers, being at home, homemaking, IS their business. And therefore taking time out for a conference is to take time away from what they enjoy, from what is driving their income, and asking them to network in a format that started out as a way to connect tech geeks who might not have connected otherwise.

        Don’t get me wrong — there’s an energy to the large conferences that can be very fun. But we may be faulting women for not conforming to a paradigm of networking that is historically rooted in male-dominated, traditional tech or sales networks. Maybe the big conferences just don’t tap into how many women, and especially domestic-space bloggers, connect in real life.

        Perhaps the question is really “why don’t we recognize that women show up in ways that don’t seem to *count*?”

        • Betsy says:

          Melissa, I think you are so right. This is really interesting and never occurred to me. Women do show up in all sorts of little ways and places that are never recognized.

  6. On a kind of similar note, children’s author Anne Ursu recently wrote about an author’s panel that was made up of four or five men and one woman, though the majority of children’s authors are women. She was curious about the choice of speakers, if the men were seen as a bigger draw, had flashier titles, etc. and what this said directly and indirectly to girl readers. Interesting.

  7. alyssaz says:

    All these reasons are true for me! I only have one baby girl at home, but trying to arrange childcare, paying for tickets, and working out the logistics, just doesn’t make it worth it to me. I wish more conferences offered childcare or watch from home options.

  8. Ana says:

    Yes, I think these are true, and because of all the guilt and logistics and expense…we then sabotage ourselves so that we DON’T get asked…so that we don’t have to say no. Or maybe its just me? In my world at least, to get invited you have to put yourself out there—express interest and get yourself on someone’s radar, submit talks or proposals, network with people that organize events, etc… And then its a continuing cycle of not getting invited, and thus not going, and thus being really uncomfortable with the idea of going…

  9. Ana says:

    And for those who find their partners “don’t do” parenting tasks when they “babysit” their kids…I don’t think this is something you have to accept. Just as you learned to do these things, he can learn to do them, too. I get it…my husband gets really stressed out, more than I do, by dealing with the kids on his own. And I try to limit it, but if a good opportunity (for work or fun) comes up, I’m working hard to get over the guilt and just go for it. Because otherwise, a) I missed the opportunity and b) I resent him for it.

    • Dani says:

      Thanks for saying this! I don’t have kids yet, and it makes me feel scared when women talk about being unable to leave their children with their husbands. But your comment is a good reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way!

      Even now I feel a little guilty when I do something in the evenings and he has to cook dinner and eat by himself. But I try to do it anyway, because otherwise I start to feel resentful–even though he never even asked me to stay home!

  10. Yup, totally try for me. I do speak at (and just attend) events super-locally, but small children at home + no clear benefits = travel isn’t happening. I’m not too troubled by this for myself… I think it’s just a season.

    I love to watch conferences online, and wish organizers would include more remote-location speakers by video, but I get that the energy is just different when you have the speaker in the room. And that’s kinda what event organizers are selling–access to the speaker, not just the talk itself. Hmm.

  11. I have no kids and thus no guilt, but I’m terribly introverted and when I do go to any networking events – either for my Beachbody business or an alumni gathering for my law school – I stand around kind of awkward and shy and it’s a big bummer. I’m trying to change that!

  12. ToscaSac says:

    The one thing that strikes me is that, okay so the organizers invited a handful of people they thought might be interested and available who turned them down.

    That has nothing to do with all the people who were never even asked. Too many times trying to hen peck fails. Get outside the box and do something different to get different results.

    Yes we as women are busy, some of us under funded and others introverted.

    The right mix of interest and availability is thus hard to pin point. Put it out via social media that you are looking for speakers, presenters or interesting stories. Ask those who decline to attend if they can recommend anyone like them self.

    I think that could begin to chip away at the problem.

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