Last night I attended an event in Paris for female entrepreneurs. While I know it was created with good intentions, the whole thing just made my skin crawl. Here's the email I sent the organizers. Feel free to adapt as needed for any future events you attend that may need a wakeup call.
Last night I attended your event in Paris for female founders. I wanted to reach out because the event itself left me quite uncomfortable. While I realize it was good intentioned, I wanted to share a few of my observations:
I found it a strange juxtaposition to attend an event designed to celebrate female entrepreneurs hosted by men. While the initiative to increase gender diversity by a VC firm is a step in the right direction, were there really no women on the team to be a part of this event? Were there any female team members in the audience to support the mission?
Early on a male host asked how many men are in the audience and to have them raise their hands. The way this event was marketed, I honestly didn't even think men were invited, so I thought it was strange to draw attention to the men in the audience, when that's not what this event was really about. (To be clear, I think it's wonderful having men part of these conversations, it's just not really what happened.)
Followed by the introduction by a man the first talk also was by a man. It wasn't that the talk was bad or uninspiring, it just felt like it was a man telling a group of women how important gender diversity is for business. Sorry to break it to you, but this is something women have known FOREVER. It just felt like the wrong talk for the wrong audience. It's speaking to the choir, so it seemed to undermine my intelligence (even it it wasn't intended that way.)
Once the two women—the guests of honor—were brought on stage they were given chairs and it was a Q&A panel. It felt as if the point of the event, women were down staged. Both of these female entrepreneurs were fantastic, but they had to share the stage, while the men at the event got to hold their own turf.
The conversation was moderated by a man. Normally I'd have no problem with this, but once again it's essential to consider the context of the event. Given everything that had happened so far, it felt very mansplain-y, where it's the man who drives the conversation of (female) entrepreneurship.
I would have loved to have tweeted some of the great takeaways from the guests of honor, but I never was able to find their names. The screens in the room only had their photos, and the confirmation and reminder emails didn't ever mention their names or roles. Yes, I could have looked them up, but I thought the point of this was to give women more access to others in the industry, not create more barriers of entry.
Once Q&A opened, the first person the microphone was handed to a....man. I normally wouldn't notice this at any other event, but the context of this event made it apparent. His question was about how to better support his female co-founder. But why should how women are treated be any different than men? (My recommendation for him—learn how he can be a better advocate for ALL women.)
When the event was over, everyone was invited for food and a drink and two talk to the speakers. There was no clear call to action of how to keep moving these conversations forward or involving more women in tech and leadership roles.
Women know the value we bring to tech, but why do we have to be the ones always carving our own way? How can men be better advocates for what women bring to the workplace? I don't have the answers, but I feel like asking more questions is a great way to start. It's also why I've crafted this email today. While no one actively seeks out criticism, I hope that what I've shared may help open some eyes to how intentions aren't always perceived as intended.
There's a big battle worth fighting out there. I'd argue it goes far beyond supporting more female entrepreneurs. Overall we ALL could afford to be more inclusive. Diversity can't just be a check list of statistics, or stock imagery that shows a spectrum of skin color.
There are SO many voices out there that deserve a seat at the table. We don't even know many of these voices are out there because we're too in our own world and assume everyone thinks like we do. There's cultural diversity, economic diversity, size diversity, age diversity, gender diversity, sexual diversity, religious diversity, geographic diversity (access), [physical or mental] ability, the list goes on. In short, there's a beautiful diversity of experience out there, and we've barely tapped the surface.
It's not until I took a closer look at myself that I truly realized the privilege I've had in my life. Here are a few resources that have changed the way I think about diversity, inclusion, and representation in tech and beyond. One great way highlight change is to tell stories. These projects do just that:
techiesproject.com– celebrating underrepresented voices in tech
peopleofcraft.com– celebrating creatives of color (+ a conversation with the co-creators)
tonl.co– culturally diverse stock photos
mismatch.design– examining how inclusion fuels innovation
Microsoft inclusive design – inclusion through empathy and the full range of human diversity
inclusive design checklist (from Wordpress)
designsponge.com/2018/03/inclusion-riders-in-design-why-our-community-is-stronger-when-were-all-represented.html– how to stand up for inclusion in design
this is just the shortlist…
I believe hard conversations are worth having. It's not just tech. It's every industry that needs to start thinking differently. I'm 100% only good things will happen once we do. We all have a lot to learn still.
Thank you for listening.