Mars and Venus in the boardroom (or at BlogHer)
I wrote before the BlogHer Conference about being a non-blogger (or sponsor) at the event, and even offered this up for male attendees:
Men and women network differently. We often seek some form of commonality before we decide to team up with each other. (Men:) Careful of the hard sell, ...:
Still, that didn't necessarily preclude men from trying to talk shop.
Last weekend, after moderating a highly charged and rewarding session on Naked Blogging, a number of women approached me to say that the panel was meaningful to them. Shortly afterward a friendly, young man made his way over to me. He complimented me on the panel and then began to pitch his business.
I wasn't certain initially why this was such a turn-off for me. The man was courteous, waiting his turn to speak with me. And at other conferences, most of them "business" events, where I speak I am used to people handing me their card and asking me to consider their service, or view a demo. But this panel was different. We had been discussing some painful moments we--panelists and audience--had experienced as personal bloggers, some of them tear-jerking, some of them life-threatening.
And yes, most of us in the room were women.
One of my panelists, Mena Trott, has a business in the Blogosphere and a vested interest in reaching the attendees, but rather than speak about her product she spoke about her personal blogging. I'll bet that her compassion and openness resonated more with attendees than her company's marketing efforts outside that room.
The next day I met with two women who were building their business and wanted some advice. Interspersed in our discussion about advertising models were stories about raising kids, our spouses, our families. It occurred to me that the difference between this and my conversation with the man who approached me the day before was simply the difference in how men and women relate in business. The poor guy wasn't being evil or inappropriate; he was simply compartmentalizing; but women tend to combine things more. By virtue of relating to these women who were telling me about their harried lives, I was more willing to help them with their business.
Not everyone embraces this subtle difference, or sees the opportunity in it. Michael Gray made very clear that he feels BlogHer discriminates against men because of our women-only speaker policy (for the record: men and women are welcome to attend BlogHer). And plenty of people responded to Gray--men and women--supporting our policy. I can appreciate Gray's opinion on the matter and contrary to what some of our supporters may say, do not think that men should not speak at BlogHer because women are still the minority in the industry. I believe that women should be speakers because of the innate spirit that we bring to the conversations that we are trying to create at the conference. Men, of course, can join those conversations, but not all men will enter them in the intended fashion.
Here's what I mean: I imagine that Gray is perturbed by our policy because we have a community of influencers, and getting in front of them would be good for raising one's profile or promoting a business. From that standpoint our policy prevents this from happening for men. HOWEVER, while the conference is a great way for brands and people to get "in front" of influencers, only the right conversations will "get through" to the influencers. The value for the members is very different than what someone outside that community may perceive it to be. We are there to connect and promote ourselves, but this happens very differently for women. It's not about the number of people we get in front of, but the quality of interactions we've had. Men who want visibility at BlogHer will get it by giving a keynote, but the quality of visibility will depend on the conversations he's had with the attendees--as a session participant, at the parties, or in follow-up posts he writes and responds to after the event.
While there were plenty of things that both men and women had to say about this weekend's New York Times story about BlogHer, I take away comments from a 62-year-old man who wrote to me (and possibly my co-founders) after reading the piece. While I don't agree with all of his observations, I appreciate his views and his thoughtfulness. After sharing that he was going to send the NYT piece to his daughter (who may very well be my age) he added:
I worked with women in Washington DC and in Hospitals for more than 30 years...Gosh, is it or at least was it hard to get women to participate and move forward. The nursing profession is and was very female. They have their own secret handshakes, and their own deliberative process. They don't want to take the lead and they don't want to follow either. Now that is a bad combination.
Also, there have been studies of women's communications. It is more spoke and hub with a wheel configuration. While men's is more the traditional pyramid. That spoke and hub is hard to use in organization management and control.
I don't think mine is the last word on the subject, but your group should get some professional researchers to accurately describe why, how, etc on the communication patterns and styles of women.
One article on that topic in the Times, some years ago, said that "Women had to be 'in relationship' to effectively communicate with each other. I have found that to be true. Men don't need to be 'in relationship" to communicate.
What strikes me here is that the reader seems less critical of women's ways in the workplace as curious to understand why we don't just do the deal, negotiate equal pay, or stand up for ourselves. He, and Gray to some extent, think that we're perpetuating behaviors that keep us from parity. But we're really just interested in perpetuating behaviors that provide the connections we need to move forward.
If we replace "communicate" in the note above with "engage" or "endorse" or "enter into a business relationship with" then I would agree with it. We do need more connection before we take your card. Obviously that's not always realistic, but in a roomful of women it is. The fellow who approached me at that panel did so because BlogHer represents a targeted demographic, period. Women approached me because they related to the panel.
Interestingly, a woman I had never met in person before the conference, who had been in touch with me about business matters, attended that session. She approached me afterward with tears in her eyes, she said, because she was having such an amazing experience at BlogHer.
"You must think I'm nuts," she said.
Actually, no. It was just business.