“For the enormous problems that face the world today, in both the private and public sphere, cannot be solved by women – or men – alone. They can only be surmounted by men and women side by side.” - Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1974
Ann Morrow Lindbergh, the daughter of a diplomat, was thrust into the public eye when she married one of the most famous men in the world. In spite of unimaginable personal loss when her first-born was kidnapped and killed, she became a pioneering aviator and an acclaimed writer. Forty years ago she knew what we all needed to do to tackle the “enormous problems that face the world…”
Women have shown strength and resilience in increasing our collective power exponentially. We are changing the ways the world communicates with us and we are adding to the international conversation in ways we never have before.
Many women’s groups provide valuable resources to women looking to get promoted, build a business or re-enter the workforce or run for public office. And yet inevitably “success equality” will require learning the tools to communicate with men while working with men.
If we want more we need to go about getting it differently. We need to strengthen the way we communicate about what we want and we need to uncover more diverse spaces than those we have been communicating in.
The point of this writing is not to condemn or eliminate women’s groups, the point of this writing is to add to our framework for personal and professional development.
In any good re-organization, a group needs to look at HOW it has done things and what the outcomes have been. Successful transformations come when the leadership takes a hard look and considers a path not taken.
To all the women reading this, I ask…has gathering with “only women” helped? Is development in a room of “women only” catapulting us to higher salaries, better jobs, seats on Corporate Boards and more positions of elected office?
When I re-entered the workforce (after a few years of service in motherhood) I created a women’s group called EVEnts. The mission was to focus on “the inner EVE in every woman” and to create an inspiring and engaging space to network. I had the chance to share my vision as a speaker and to feature a guest speaker I knew my audience would like. Soon men in my network started coming and it was no longer a women’s group. I re-named the event after myself which was the suggestion of a male colleague. I never would have done this without his urging because I felt it was self-promotion and made me uncomfortable.
As I approached my sixth year hosting this event I received the invaluable feedback I needed to keep going at a time when I was looking to quantify the value of the event. Jeffrey Hayzlett, global business celebrity and primetime television and podcast show host said after being my guest speaker, “…a fun event bringing together people from different backgrounds, jobs, religion, politics, and everything else to talk about anything and everything…”
After this event one of my guests, a young entrepreneur had a meeting with a prospective funder she met at this event. She said, “I never would have gone for that if I hadn’t had the chance to meet him and talk to him in that setting. I’m so proud of myself.”
Ryan Smith, Head of Global Human Resources for GE Business Innovation told me (after he was my guest speaker) that “My teams would benefit from being in this space where they can sit across the table from someone completely different and feel safe enough to talk about themselves and listen to others.”
At this event one of my guests, a personal development coach, was told by a hedge fund manager to stick to her heart based message because it was something he knew he needed to focus on to serve his clients more effectively.
She said, “After talking to him over dinner I decided I’m going to market my work to a higher net worth client. I never imagined someone like him would be my target audience.”
Every time I take myself out of my comfort zone, I learn from the people in that place where I’m a little uncomfortable. Sometimes those people are women and sometimes they are men.
From these spaces I learn:
1. Women lead with compassion. Men would benefit from leading with compassion more.
2. Men talk less. Women would benefit from talking less.
3. Women and men want to be listened to, we all want people to take the time to understand what we want and we want feedback on what we are getting right.
Our problems today are different than they were in 1974 and still enormous. What foresight Mrs. Lindbergh had knowing then what we really need to know now.
We are very powerful. We develop our power even further by moving outside our comfort zone.
Women and men side by side. If the goal is to create equality in every space we enter, then we need to immerse ourselves in personal and professional development as if it has been achieved.