Femalities: A Breakdown of SXSW and a Lot of Other Stuff from a Woman's Point of View
Don't know what it is--the fact that I've just emerged from a weekend at SXSW, it was International Women's Day on Friday, I got snubbed by a "prominent" male investor/entrepreneur that in the virtual world I respected, though in person not so much--but I am feeling my womanness of late. And no, guys, it's not because it's that time of the month. If anything, it's the world who's experiencing a hormonal shift.
Fast moving SXSW registration line by VeeSees via Flickr
A digital analyst that I bumped into at SX in the lobby of the Hilton asked me what struck me as the big story at SX. I gave him a safe answer that belied the unbelievable growth the BlogHer Network has experienced on mobile platforms </shill for my company> and realized there's a better, more encompassing answer: WOMEN.
You know, those people at SX who like to hug, code, and grab coffee. They've been at SX before (we partnered with SX in '06, developing programming for them around women and have been involved as attendees or board members </shill my business partner> since). They're not really that new in the space. Like content marketing they were around in the Web 1.0 days too, but there are new distinctions that folks seem to be making, in part because, like Facebook, some broke out and went public.
Yes, we don't need to say Sheryl SANDBERG or Marissa MAYER out here. Everyone knows who you are talking about when asked, "What'd you think about Marissa's decision?" or "Lean In, you agree with Sheryl?" It may have been International Women's Day on Friday, but it seems the celebrating here in Austin was delayed for the official launch of "Lean In" instead.
Even my ungeeky friends have reached out and asked me, "So do you think this Lean In stuff is valid?" For the record (and since I was supposed to represent BlogHer on a CNN panel to discuss this Friday, but the topic was bumped to today and we talked about DOMA and Justin Bieber instead) I want to put what I thought was a damn well-conceived opinion out there, to the two of you reading my blog:
I love what Sheryl has done with her platform as resident SV untouchable badass to highlight the issue of women and work. It seems that when women who haven't taken companies public try to do so, the media responds with a tad less enthusiasm. And while I understand the criticism of some of the fembloggers who feel that Sandberg's privileged background makes her an unreliable advocate for those of us who actually have to work, I think someone had to get this conversation started. My hope and intention is to invite others to the conversation who have lived in fear of being fired and feel they have to fake leaning in, or who don't have the resources to lean in without keeling over from the exhaustion of having a full-time career and being a caregiver.
I don't believe that women have an ambition problem. When it comes to having a family and high-powered career they have a power problem.
I attended Jessica Coen's Interview of Anne-Marie Slaughter and felt for the first time in a long time like a pig in shit at a SX session. My people! And I saw plenty of men in attendance at her panel. One even approached me after I asked Anne-Marie my question (Do you think men are equally at risk of having difficulty on-ramping back into the workforce after being at home raising the kids?) and told me how he managed the transition. Finally I can come back from SX with some takeaway for my amazing Stay-at-Home Husband.
And I attended a panel led by John Gerzema that walked us through the research done for his book The Athena Doctrine--which provides powerful examples of men and women who have manifested massive change in the world by adopting feminine qualities such as flexibility, intuition, generosity, and empathy. Gerzema argues that it is the embracing of feminine traits (defined as feminine via a global survey of thousands) that is required to be effective in today's political, economic, and societal realms (and to the "professor" who took issue with Gerzema's omission of his female research partner--who did not co-author the book--on the cover: Consider the maleness of your body language and accusatory tone and Gerzema's open, accepting, perhaps FEMININE response to your attack. Personally, I prefer that he have my back).
And I capped off a long day having dinner with some crazily inspirational women who got where they are (at the top echelons of their companies and running their own) via a killer cocktail of chutzpah, yes, but also of being tireless connectors and interpreters of what the rest of us are going to care about in the future. None of them had the asshole personal interface that I experienced on Saturday, as mentioned earlier that I experienced from an investor entrepreneur who speaks a whole lot about the need to empower women entrepreneurs, just so long as he doesn't actually have to SPEAK or LOOK at any of them at SX. I must say, I've attended countless investor meetings with all-male VCs, tech conventions with mostly male attendees, board meetings with mostly male members, and never have I felt disrespected like I did when I encountered this person and said hello. (To place in Evernote in a file I've reserved for notes on a book I one day intend to write that explores the correlation of assholeness with effectiveness as a visionary. Sadly there often is one, but I'd like to make a case that there doesn't have to be).
I hung out in pubs with men and women who talked about their kids as much as their work projects and who had thoughtful commentary on Marissa Mayer's decision to reverse Yahoo's remote work policy (for the record I'm in the "she's a CEO first" camp. In the future I hope she will address the MANAGEMENT problem that led to the degradation of morale among the remote workers and re-institute flexible work policy.)
Last night, I didn't sleep, and for the first time in a long time, something other than an infant kept me up all night. I had a realization, borne of this combination of aforementioned events, that women are on the cusp of big reckonings. I can feel it pulling me out of my 5-year blogging slump.
I remain true to my belief that being a woman doesn't keep you from getting VC funding--a shitty business plan and weak management team do--and entrepreneurism is accessible to all (Steve Blank, whom I finally got to meet in person at SX, I continue to bow to you). But there continues to be a lack of respect for things female. Note again, I didn't say WOMEN, I said for things/traits female. I think that is going to change. And pretty soon.
Jory blogs at Jory Des Jardins