Are Women Perpetuating Gender Inequality and Reinforcing Their Own Stereotypes?
The Imposter Syndrome— the feeling of being fraudulent. Entrepreneurs have to wear many hats and consequently many masks, the most common one being, “I am 100% confident in what I am doing”. The Imposter Syndrome is part of the human condition, because, men and women alike have insecurities. Yes, men…even Donald Trump (hopefully his hair is the biggest one). Although men and women are both human beings, why is it more women are impacted by feelings of insecurity and the looming fear that they will be “found out”? Skyler McCurine and I sat down to have a candid conversation about this very issue. We concluded that men feel exactly the same way as women but women and their feelings of inadequacy are continuously publicized. I can’t help but wonder if women are helping to advertise the message that “we feel less than” masked in Shero, empowerment, feminist rhetoric.
The Lean In Era is upon us and while Sheryl Sandberg’s book was an amazing invitation for women to sit at the table and for men to actually be mindful of gender inequality, it also demonstrated a troubling realization that many women feel inadequate, especially in business and entrepreneurial ventures. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report, which measures the capability perception of men and women around the world, “women have lower opportunity perceptions in all regions of the world” meaning women see obstacles instead of opportunity. We must force ourselves to ask “why?” This question is increasingly important as the number of female entrepreneurs is growing. As stated in Inc. Magazine’s article “an estimated 126 million women are running new businesses and an additional 98 million are running established businesses. Not only are these women creating jobs for themselves, but also they employ others, plan to grow, and are actively innovating new products and services. For the first time there are seven economies (Panama, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, Nigeria, Mexico and Uganda) in which the rate of women’s start-up was slightly higher or equal to that of men.” Women are making incredible strides yet still feel as though they are less capable. Even world-known Facebook executive Sheryl suffers from the fear of falling short.
The very notion of “leaning in” is itself very passive, submissive almost. It sounds like someone that wants to be included and instead of saying “HELLO, I’M HERE”, we gently lean in next to our colleague and say “psttt, don’t forget about me”. Sure, it’s an improvement, but it isn’t enough of one to create true social change; change that will force all men to see us as equals in the home and in business and ourselves to recognize our value. Huffington Post Contributor Vanessa Garcia, chooses to dive right in, with her forward article Why I Won’t Lean In. She explains ‘”Sandberg asks women to ‘sit at the table,’ to ‘lean in.’ Which sounds good on the surface, but what she’s asking is for women to lean into a corporate culture created by men. The argument is that by submitting to the initial rules of this male-dominated corporate structure, women can then make changes from within that self-same structure. For me, this gives women a false sense of hope. It won’t work, not in the big scale or in the long run. It hasn’t worked. What it’s proved to do is put women in a position of exhaustion, where they are constantly fighting themselves in order to get to a place where they can ask for pregnancy parking spot privileges so they don’t have to “waddle” for miles into work (a victory for Sandberg in her book). Sorry, a women’s bathroom and a parking spot just isn’t enough and, for me, it’s not even a good enough place to start. I want more, and I won’t become a submissive to get it.
The problem with leaning in is how similar it is to submission. It’s no surprise that Sandberg’s book hits the bestseller list in the same era as Fifty Shades of Grey, the book that so many women called ‘hot’ but was, in fact, a true setback for us all”. Lean In has a faint resemblance of the wonderful Gloria Steinem but truly is a modern day publication of Miss Manners.
I had the pleasure of attending Luna Fest a few months ago. This incredible event shares films made and produced by woman. Men run 90% of all media corporations, meaning the images we see and the music we hear is coming from the Male Lens. Luna Fest believes WOMEN need to craft their own messages in the media. Luna Film Fest features short films produced, directed, and written by women. I sat in the move theatre for a few hours thrilled to be surrounded by such wonderful company–like minded women from across the city who wanted to spent their Thursday night watching powerful stories about acceptance, body image, leadership, cancer, rape – all told through the female voice. I was disappointed to see the gift bags consisted of facials, body washes, pink glitter soap, and a raffle awarding prizes that all had to do with our physical appearance; the juxtaposition of this was counterintuitive to Luna Fest’s vision and purpose. I had a flashback of every female networking event I had ever been to, pink name tags, balloons, and banners with flowery fonts greeted me. Jennifer Parks, Principal Consultant, Big Data & Analytics; SAS Strategic Partner Development Lead at CSC, posed an excellent question to the Citi Bank’s Connect LinkedIn community after seeing the number of discussions about appearance, manners and fashion “Are women doing themselves a disservice by talking about “girly” topics in a networking group?” I worry that indeed we are perpetuating the very gender inequality that are holding is back.
Are Women perpetuating the stereotype and the perception that we feel less capable then men simply through our language and actions? I often refer to myself as a female entrepreneur, immediately highlighting myself as the “other” insinuating that I should be recognized for being different. Perhaps it’s not even needing to demonstrate that we are in fact women. Just come to the table, sit down, and speak up. We don’t need to say as a “female entrepreneur or female business owner.” Perhaps this language is setting us back and causing others to see us a different because we are acknowledging that indeed we are. Why not just as “as an entrepreneur I find…”
The sheer number of female empowerment workshops speaks volumes to the outside community, perhaps simply admitting that we need to be empowered immediately indicates our “imposter syndrome”, conveying to the globe that we need to be revved up because we don’t feel capable. I’ve never seen a men’s empowerment workshop and if it was one, it sure didn’t have empowerment in the title. Even the title of Marla Tabaka’s article, Study: Female Founders Fear They’re Less Capable Than Men , is a headline that will leave a lasting impression on it’s readers; including men. Candida Brush, contributing author at Forbes shares, “headlines with phrases like ‘Women Lack of Confidence,’ ‘Women Entrepreneurs have Fear of Failure’ perpetuate the stereotype. I have two reactions- first, it is well known that the media can shape perceptions and influence how people think. Most people will not read the article but when they see the words ‘women entrepreneurs and failure’ they will draw a conclusion- ‘women fail at entrepreneurship.’
The feelings of inadequacy are part of our genetic predisposition and thank goodness for that, or else there would be a billion Machiavelli’s roaming the planet hell, it would be full fledged World War III. However, inadequacy is being categorized as a “female” issue. Gender norms have taught women to share their feelings while men have been taught to bury theirs deep. Neither one is healthy but we have to be mindful of our language, especially around men, to demonstrate that there is no other, there is just a human being. As Vanessa Garcia boldly concludes “The solution. Let’s stand up straight, we can bounce at the knees for a stronger stance and flexibility as we stand, but we must refuse to kneel. The farther we lean in, the faster we’re going to end up down and down is the last place we want to be. I rather look a man in the eye than shine his shoes in the hopes that one day he’ll be willing to hold my hand and walk with me. No, that simply cannot be our starting point. We must find new ways of illuminating the way. Perhaps Diving head first is better than Leaning In, you may face-plant but all the greats did too! The good stuff comes from what follows.”
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