The subject of women and power, closing the gender gap etcetera, is one that we can expect to go on for a long time, at least until we begin to make real progress. The recent hullabaloo around the pregnancy of Marisa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, certainly points to the fact that there is definitely more work to be done here -- the question though is what form this work should take! Another question might center around the rhetoric around the conversation. It is with interest therefore that I followed Womenetics Conference held in Atlanta last week. My interest was further piqued when my mentor, Pat Mitchell, accepted to give the opening speech. I have listened to her speak many times before, and so what was particularly different about this one speech?
Perhaps the question to ask is "what was NOT different about this speech!" The consistency of the message, the connection of the dots, the metaphors that came alive, the staggering statistics of our reality, the opportunity for progress -- these are the things that caught my attention.
Pat herself is an amazing example of what she advocates for, unquestionably! Four years ago, as an African girl who had hardly had any real mentors besides my very strong and courageous mother, Pat stormed into my life. She has become my mentor, my friend, my mother, but most importantly, she has always been that consistent voice, who having struggled herself through professional life and motherhood to the very top of her game, remains a credible voice that continues to use all her resources to reach out to other women. Perhaps her quote from Jane Fonda, 'older women are the most dangerous, because they have the most experience and nothing to loose,' is very apt, as she fearlessly advocates for the need for women to show up and the right of women to be at the table.
"There has never been a better time to have been born a woman," is the opening statement of her talk. As I sit there, my mind takes in this comment and struggles to reconcile it with the reality of the life I know and have lived. The reality of my birth continent Africa and my adopted home America; two continents that can give and learn much from each other.
True, this is the time when technology is at its best, in the evolution of our race. The cell phone technology for instance is changing communities like the Congo, where Women use it to track the movement of rebels and stay safe. In Kenya, where farming communities of women have been impacted and economic empowerment enhanced; in Afghanistan, where female mortality during child-birth is being reduced. The transformative impact of this media in the hands of women, connected to the fact that according to Pat Mitchell's speech, women are controlling over 40 percent of the wealth in the United States, account for over 60 percent of e-commence dollars, and spend over 25 hours a month online averagely presents a staggering opportunity. What is this power being used for? Are we even aware that this power exist? Are we questioning the media portrayals of women and the stereotypes given to women in power? Are we asking more from companies and demanding that they create women friendly work environments and put more women on boards and in management? Not as a favor off course, but because these women are qualified and represent a voice that must be at the table? Are we asking this of the products we consume and the companies that produces them? Or are we having conversations around whether a woman's "brains and uterus can work at the same time?"
Many women take the off-ram just as they are peaking. In-turn, making companies anxious about investing in women who may not stay. On the other side of it, the women who stay and get to the top spend all their time trying to fit into the stereotypes of power, which is often masculine. Pat mentions a favorite quote from her grandmother, " falling on your face is at least a forward movement!" I am apt to agree, considering the many times, I have fallen on my face, only to get up, dust off and realize, I have actually moved forward!
As I leave the hall, Pat's words stay with me. As a woman, take risks. As a woman, be fearless. As a woman, be impatient. As a woman, find a mentor and be a mentor! We really can not have this conversation as men; only as women, with me... and thankfully, there are men that will listen!