I was reading my March/April issue of Diversity Magazine and this article, "Things NEVER to Say to Women Executives" got my attention.
In the article, writer Zayda Rivera tells a few horror stories (ok, they aren't 'horror' stories - but they're appalling and insulting and isn't that horrible if you're on the receiving end?) of C-level professionals calling their female contemporaries, "Honey." She also shares some sexual innuendos - usually meant as a compliment; like: "Wow, you look great in that sweater! You should wear it more often." Said while eyes are anywhere but focused on the woman's face.
The article is a good one, but it misses some points. Mainly, the point that this is still going on - today - in the 21st century, when those delivering the inappropriate comments should know better! I've been on the receiving end of the "Honey" label, and I've been in the receptionist's chair when the top sales' guy says, "Can you get me a cup of coffee/pick up my laundry/send my wife flowers." Today, I'm the CEO of a successful social media company - and yet, I still feel marginalized by men I meet. And, honestly, by some women, too. It's as if the calendar is stuck in the 1970s - and women are still seen as "the little woman" (not really smart, but useful for menial tasks), or as Amazon warriors trying to emasculate men - in order to achieve equality.
The trap that continues to catch too many people is that talking down to women colleagues... and worse, talking down to women customers, puts them at an advantage, and you...in a big hole you cannot dig yourself out of. Just because she's a woman doesn't mean she's uninformed about financial services, or cars, or technology. And, if she is - don't grin at her and make insider jokes...at her expense. Educate her.
If you aren't paying attention, let me remind you that women business owners are eager to adopt new technology, they are prepared to take financial risks, and they offer flexible work hours to their employees. Women value relationships above competitveness, but do not doubt that they also understand and embrace the goal of having a profit at the end of the year. The means of creating that profit is in their approach - not to step on others, but to build communities where each person is valued for his or her talent.
When banks and technology companies and car dealers and financial services reps and salespeople and business writers and --- on and on -- talk to and about women as if they are not only uninformed, but unintelligent, it says a great deal to those women being talked down to. It says, "Quite obviously, you do not want to do business with me."
Understand this - women of all ages are forming alliances and relationships via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more - because these are "social" tools...and being social is one big strength for women. Social, in this context does not mean gathering for pastries in a coffee klatch. It means social as in - working together, talking together, planning together, and solving problems together. Since one of the biggest problems we have had to date is the problem of not being taken seriously - we've gone social to the point of cutting out the middleman in favor of adding a woman in his place.
These are our professional "girl" friends. The ones intent upon our success, as much as we are intent upon theirs. And, surprisingly, these girl friends might be stay at home Moms, or entrepreneurs launching new ventures. They might be bankers or lawyers or women into crafts and jewelry; they might sell Mary Kay or homemade baked goods or children's toys. They might be scientists or car dealers or financial planners.
And, they might be the woman sitting next to you on a plane - reading a torrid romance novel, dressed in comfortable sweats, and tennis sneakers.
Beware what you say to those women. They are very much like Susan Boyle - powerful, talented, focused, and not willing to change to fit YOUR vision of who they should be.