Oops, I did it again. I unintentionally started another fight on Facebook.
It started out pretty innocently. I woke up and did what I normally do which is sit on the couch with my coffee and pulled up then the news on my phone. I was struck by an article announcing that for the first time the Boy Scouts of America planned to integrate girls into the program. Initially I was pretty positive and excited about it. I was hopeful in thinking that the Boy Scouts are doing the right thing to integrate genders. The article talked about the organization’s desire to expose more girls to STEM programs by giving them the same opportunities as boys. It seemed like a pretty good thing considering the very real talent gap that exists in our industry so I forwarded it on with no comment. Point one for feminism and equal rights! Awesome right?
What was interesting was that a lot of the counter arguments against this change initially came from women that I really respect. Here I was, a self-proclaimed modern feminist having my viewpoint challenged by other feminist open minded thinkers. Throwing boys and girls into the same activities should be a good thing, right? Giving girls the same opportunities as other boys early on in their development is progress, isn’t it? They cited study after study which showed that integrating girls into an all-boys environment had a positive impact on the boys’ development while it showed that it had a detrimental impact on the development and self-confidence of girls. This wasn’t an argument against gender equality. It was an argument for creating environments where girls could thrive.
When my excitement turned to curiosity and I asked, “isn’t equality a good thing?” men reacted too. A lot of these men had strong opinions that I generally agree with like, “treat boys and girls the same way,” and “give everyone equal opportunities.” One of the guys backed up my question with a passionate argument implying that not wanting integration in the Boy Scouts was the same thing as the segregation laws in the 1950’s. As if choosing to keep boys and girls separate in the scouts is synonymous with forcing someone of a different race to drink from a separate water fountain. Or that if the Girl Scouts didn’t offer the same activities as the Boy Scouts we should shift our focus and force the Girl Scouts to change their programs. The guys weren’t arguing against a case for women and girls, they were just looking at the change in a completely different way.
And then it dawned on me…
Here I was singing the praises of integration yet I am also the same person who co-founded a women’s only networking group for my own industry. It’s not because I/we believe in segregation of genders in any way whatsoever. WTF exists in response to a very real issue that exists in our society. Girls today still are faced with a lot of issues that stem from their childhood and it continues on into their professional lives. I love that people are starting to recognize and talk about solutions to these issues. I appreciate that books like Lean In exist and that it has helped create a movement to help women in business and technology (thanks Sheryl). But as someone who has “leaned in” my entire career and never shied away from expressing my opinions or asking for a promotion, my determination and assertiveness is to this day still labeled as “bossy”, “bitchy” or “overly aggressive” while my male counterparts are labeled as “driven”, “strong leaders”, and “high potential”. We can talk about the issues and address the problems but given where we are as a society today it needs to go beyond that. They say it takes a village to raise a child but it takes I believe it takes a community to empower and inspire women and that community needs to be ours.
This has never been an us versus them thing but I realize now that the reason we’re doing this is for the same reasons why the women on Facebook were in support of keeping the two scout groups separate. WTF is not a private women’s club where we sip champagne in our amazingly well-lit room and plot against our male coworkers. Although I’ll take the great lighting and a glass of champagne any old day of the week. WTF is about a global community of women in our industry coming together because we recognized that we all needed something like this.
Some of us are driven by a desire for mentorship from other strong female leaders. Some of us lack a safe space in our own companies to ask questions or talk about the very real self-confidence issues that exist across a lot of women in the workforce today. Some of us want to move to the next level in our careers but don’t know how to take that step. Some of us love our bitchin’ acronym and get the humor in it because it’s 2018, come on people! Some of us simply want to enjoy a nice glass of wine, get to know some other ladies, and get away from the insanity and chaos of the conferences we all attend. Even if it’s for just for a few magical hours.
For me it’s all of the above.