The gender debate in the IM industry has been a hot topic lately. This is not the first time it has been brought up, but the issue is certainly gaining steam. My stance on this topic may surprise you, then again it may not.
Over the years I have done a pretty good job of ducking it altogether, even when thrown into the hot seat on more than one occasion...
My position is simple - I dont really have an opinion on the "gender war", except that I dont particularly like it. In fact, I cringe every time it gets brought up.
I am probably the last person to notice, much less point out, if all of the speakers at any given event are male - or if I happen to be the only female at the table.
This was the case at the most recent StomperNet event, for example. Dan Thies, Dave Taylor and Sherman Hu came through the lobby on their way to breakfast and invited me to join them. While the four of us were having breakfast together, being female was the last thing on my mind. The conversation was about the event, and about business in general.
I honestly dont think it would have mattered to them if it was Lynn Terry or Don Crowther that they ran into in the lobby that day. They would have stopped and said "join us!" with a smile either way. That's just the kind of people they are. No need to mix a fem in for the sake of making a point, but rather treating me as they would anyone else they happen to know.
I dont think this example would have even come to mind, except for the recent talk accusing StomperNet of being "sexist". Having attended two of their events this year myself, I have to strongly disagree.
Regardless of current appearances (which are just that), this is a group that has extended great hospitality to me, without recognition of my gender - but with respect to my obvious track record in the industry.
If anything, I have noticed that men are much more likely to have an open door policy than are women. You simply do not see the male equivalent of BlogHER, WAHM.com or similar events & sites. At least not on that scale.
I certainly dont have anything against sites, events or communities that are hosted by women - for women. In fact, I am speaking at one such event later this month.
At the same time, you wont find me berating men for their choice of company either. You wont find me leaning towards one camp or the other. My focus has always been on my own goals, and I succeed by my own definition of success. You'll usually find me in the company of people with similar values, regardless of their gender.
The one thing I dont tolerate or participate in is any notion of disrespect. I like to consider myself open-minded, though I am aware of the fact that I am only as open-minded as I am educated about any given topic or situation.
There are plenty of men in our generation who have strong family values, and plenty of women who are very aggressive and successful marketers. And there are plenty of people who achieve both (like myself).
But I also believe that there is a very natural divide between genders that can be appreciated and respected... and (dare I say it?)... leveraged.
Instead of trying to battle the differences, I think our industry would do well to embrace them. Women could do well by aligning themselves with their male counterparts, as would men by realizing and leveraging the natural strengths of female marketers.
I'm not suggesting that there are "gender roles" in our industry, or that there should be. Simply that you can gain more by leverage than by force.
Quite honestly, this concept of leverage works regardless of gender. It does not require a certain combination of chromosomes, but rather the very specific ingredients of: mutual respect, mutual interest and mutual objective.
What concerns me the most is that the gender uproar will cause forced change, instead of natural alignment. That companies and community leaders will feel pressured to select "token females" instead of being given the time & opportunity for natural growth in that direction.
Or on the flipside, that a male-dominated company who chooses to bring on female partners or speakers will be applauded for their choice in bringing on a female - with zero recognition for the actual reason that person was selected. Meaning skills will be invisible next to gender.
Up to this point in my career, the opportunities handed to me have been based on my track record of success in certain areas. I prefer to keep it that way.
Unfortunately (IMO) I hear many voices in this "debate" chanting for equality, or for a female face just for the sake of assumed equality. I would venture to guess that this makes men and women alike who are in a position to initiate this change very uncomfortable. I know it does me.
Consider these two scenarios, and which would be more likely to initiate positive change:
F: Why dont you have (more) women on stage at this event?
M: (knows there is no right answer here, was put in defensive position)
F: This was such an incredible event! I learned a lot during the sessions. I've actually been following "F" online for a couple of years now and you might consider having her speak at your next event too - she is a fabulous presenter with a very unique presentation.
M: Excellent! Do you have her website address? I'd love to check that out and bring it to the board for consideration.
Its all about copywriting - even with the spoken word. Unless you just enjoy watching the opposite sex squirm, consider ways that you can help initiate positive change. Stirring the pot just for the sake of making a point doesnt help matters. It makes them worse.
Ultimately we all have an obligation to ourself and our business to make choices that are in line with our objectives. Forget politically correct, or gender debates, or any other outside influence - I am going to work with the people that are in line with my goals. Period.
I dont choose a designer based on gender. I choose them based on their skills. This is how I prefer to be considered in any given situation too, of course.
That said, I go back to my earlier point on leverage and offer you this thought: We each have our own personal strengths and weaknesses. Doesnt it make more sense to accept and respect those, and then strategically align ourselves with people who complement our objective?
I think so.