I'm so glad I went.
I immediately spotted a woman from a women's mentoring group I belong to (that has sadly gone defunct); Facebook informed me this morning that today is her birthday. She was seated beside another woman from our mentoring group, and three other women were there, too (including the Vice President of the Chamber). The panel discussion centered on how women succeed, mentor, lead, balance. (Do they have panel discussions of well-accomplished men on these topics? Does any man ever present on behalf of any Chamber of Commerce on how he finds time for his family?)
Working women in the United States need mentors. This is not only for the thousands of reasons that women aren't CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, that women in STEM fields are the vast minority, or that women leave the workforce after having had children in GIANT percentages greater than their male counterparts... it's also for the simple fact that women can be flat out mean to other women.
I worked in the nonprofit sector for nearly a decade. I basically only had female coworkers for a decade.
In that time, I ran the gamut of bosses. I will mix up chronology to protect the guilty.
- I worked for a woman who was given to our division so her boss no longer had to deal with her. She had never managed people or led a team. She knew nothing about our division's subject matter.
- I worked for one man who, to this day, has no idea what I am (not) capable of. (Line forms to the left.)
- I worked for one man had to resign due to his incompetence.
- I learned to be careful of my references: one woman told a potential future employer that I lacked maturity and would need professional and/or personal development.
- One woman taught me, by example, to give your subordinates great leverage to learn and accomplish a lot. If you trust yourself enough to hire them, then you trust them.
- One woman told me that however I had measured my past accomplishments, "whether as Homecoming Queen or fraternity little sister," I needed to improve, particularly my writing skills. Apparently, in the universe that had shaped her world vision, pretty girls weren't smart girls. Therefore, because I was pretty, I couldn't be smart, and I couldn't produce decent copy.
- She had been on my hiring committee. She had read my writing samples. She had enthusiastically chosen me.
- Her boss thought I was amazing and seemed to genuinely hate when they lost the grant that funded my position. (Hey jealousy?)
- This is a stereotype I continue to fight every day: I am both smart and beautiful, and it's completely possible for women to be both. We can have great ideas and blonde curls. We can write and speak really passionately - enough to raise over $500,000 in a year - while being 69 inches tall.
- The last thing any girl needs going for her is ugliness.
Women don't need just women mentors; we need good managers, of all genders.
I moved to New Orleans to work for a woman who I knew was a good manager. She hired for her weaknesses, which means that she hired people to do their jobs better than she could do it for them. And she expected us to hire people to do their jobs better than we could do it for them.
She knew that she couldn't offer us more money, so she sweetened our compensation packages with more time: greater professional development opportunities; more vacation (we didn't have to report it if it was fewer than two days); more sick time (if we worked any part of any day, it was not considered a sick day, so we worked from our respective couches with fevers because we didn't want to infect our colleagues, but we really liked our jobs); unlimited (within reason) hours to volunteer in our community; and flexible working hours.
We all completed and were trained in an Emergenetics analysis. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
These are all lessons I have carried into my subsequent professional roles and built into my employment manuals. They are the reasons that many people have asked me to serve as a reference for them while they job searched. They are the reasons I transform work environments from something toxic to something beautiful.
I pay it forward because I believe that there are enough mean girls in the world and that there is not enough kindness in the world. I also believe that people genuinely want to be fulfilled by their work and they genuinely want to perform well.
So let's change it. Let's treat each other with generosity. Be a good boss, regardless of gender. Fight to change your company's parental leave policies. Support men and women who take time to be with their families, who attempt to achieve balance, who are paid for every minute of their assigned paid time off, who eat lunch at their desks every day.
Trust the people you hire to do their jobs. And, if you don't trust them, let them go.