Women in BizThis post started from a Twitter conversation with Margie Clayman and Caroline Di Diego about a post written by Carol Roth titled “At the Business Table, Where Are the Ladies?”. In this post, Roth talked about how there are so many men who are acknowledged as experts and gurus in their fields while there are very few women represented in the same way. But if you were to test yourself, which women come to mind with equal stature. They are out there! Are you familiar with Liz Strauss, Aliza Sherman, Valeria Maltoni or Lisa Petrilli? These women are just a few of the many out there doing great work that is changing the world. Margie Clayman followed up with her own post, “Women Don’t Want a League of Our Own” and asked how separate but equal can still exist in the 21st century business world?

I suppose I should add my disclaimer here…I have mixed feelings about women-centered business groups and intiatives. I think it’s only fair that you know this from the start. No, I don’t think they are completely bad or wrong. And…if your business focuses on women, then it would be ridiculous to eliminate them from your marketing plan. Just so you know, my feelings come from participating in women-centered business groups as a member and leader.

So how does separating the women in business from the men in business limit growth? This is where my mixed feelings are most apparent. For some of us, we need a place to begin that seems safe to test our ideas and ourselves. A lot of women seek a place where they believe it is acceptable to discuss business and personal life seamlessly. And that’s fine for a start but this cannot be the stopping point.

It’s not that women should not have these groups. In my small business coaching, my question is not “what are you doing?” but “why are you doing that?” Most groups have their merits and women can find these valuable places for ideas, connections and encouragement. So join NAWBO, NAFE, attend women-centered business conferences or blog on a women-only business site. Use these groups as a springboard to where you envision your business is going. But there are some things to consider if you make this your only focus.

  • It makes women invisible. Did you know there is a TED talk for women? What are they talking about? There are important, world-changing ideas that are not being shared. As an example, funding for women entrepreneurs and their startups can be hard to find because venture capitalists don’t know the individual’s track history. Equity companies tend to invest in people they already know.
  • It keeps women off the hook. For a number of women, staying separate from the men in business allows them to not stretch beyond their comfort zone. Getting into the elite business thinkers means risking rejection and learning to manage a multitude of personalities. It also means we don’t learn more sophisticated philosphies or business practices. Could you be elite material but playing it safe?
  • It allows cultural norms and sexism to continue. Separate has never been equal. Are we minimizing someone’s talent because she built a successful skincare company or has a chain of assisted-living facilities? There can be the perception that someone is pushy because she simply asked for a sale. If there is still a message that “nice girls do not (fill in the blank), are we missing out on socially acceptable behaviors that will transform our businesses? Having different rules for each gender in the business world stifles innovation and competition.

What do you think? I could very well be off base. My experience is certainly not the be-all, end-all of what is possible. Men don’t have a monopoly on the best way to do anything in business. They have good ideas and women have good ideas. What if we had a fuller conversation? According to research, businesses who have women in high-level decision-making positions (c-level, board of directors) tend to perform better than businesses who have main men in these positions. 

I’m not saying eliminate all of the women-centered business initiatives. Many of them serve important functions (e.g. Make Mine a Million). I merely ask one question…

Why do (some) women in business keep themselves separate?