I am in love with Sheryl Sandberg. Not a romantic love (though she is pretty attractive as well as inspirational), but the female equivalent of Man Crush (is there a name for this?). I gobble up any videos of her on the web. I read and highlight every second quote by her. I find myself dreaming about meeting her someday and giving her a big hug and gushing about how grateful I am that she is in the world and how incredibly brave she is for speaking up from her position.
She is a woman who has 'made it' who isn't afraid to say that it was a struggle to get there. She's honest enough to talk about the times when people tried damaging her reputation, targeting her in large because she is a woman:
Do I believe I was judged more harshly because of my double-Xs? Yes. Do I think this will happen to me again in my career? Sure. I told myself that next time I’m not going to let it bother me, I won’t cry. I’m not sure that’s true. But I know I’ll get through it. I know that the truth comes out in the end, and I know how to keep my head down and just keep working. READ MORE
The comments on the article are telling of the underlying biases and attitudes that hold back women. And the same arguments against Sheryl's honest telling of her trail to success are railed against many other women who are telling the story as it happens: "You are imagining things." "Stop blaming everyone else for your failures."
In fact, I watched a kickass woman I admire (and ALSO have a girl-equivalent Man Crush on), Sarah Prevette, experience the same type of comments after being featured in the Globe & Mail by Amber MacArthur. One commenter called Sarah a woman "looking for excuses." Is this the same Sarah Prevette I know who is the LAST person on the planet who looks for excuses?
I know the struggles. I feel them. I started a Google Group to discuss how we can combat the subtle sexism that Sarah talks about because I've had the same conversation with every kickass woman CEO, founder, executive and entrepreneur I know. It goes like, "They don't say it, but I *know* they treat me differently. They aren't taking me seriously because I don't act like a man and when I act like a man, they call me difficult."
How many VC meetings have I been in where the VC turns to me and says, "Yeah. I just don't get it. Maybe I'll show it to my wife." BURN! Really? Would he say that to a man pitching him the same concept?
Hell, even the VCs (or angel Paige Craig in this case) are talking about how the subtle sexism works and getting shut down. And I look at the companies getting funded...UBER funded...versus those NOT getting funded (or those getting underfunded) and I see lots of women in the underfunding/non-funded category while the same damned ideas are getting money thrown at them when they are led by men.
I had a candid conversation with a prominent tech reporter who told me s/he pitched an undercover story on exposing the VC bias toward young male founders (planting the same idea with a different gendered CEO in front of the same VC firms) who was told it would never happen because it would be too scandalous and the media company would get blacklisted.
But I get the messages from people saying, "Stop talking about this stuff. You'll only get blacklisted yourself." and I think about Gaslight, the 1944 Classic Movie with Ingrid Bergman (one of my faves of all time). From the description:
Years after her aunt was murdered in her home, a young woman moves back into the house with her new husband. However, he has a secret which he will do anything to protect, even if that means driving his wife insane.
It's an amazing metaphor for how many women in technology are feeling today. We are sure we see the signs that discrimination still exists, but then they are explained away or we are told "you are being crazy/blaming/whiny/etc." and we start believing that we must be imagining it. It doesn't stop us from moving forward, but it takes its toll emotionally and physically. It wreaks havoc on the personal lives that help re-vitalize us. It isolates us. It pits women against one another. Soon we believe our own insanity.
The problem is that it isn't obvious. It's, as Sarah pointed out, SUBTLE. There isn't a glowing example to point at and say, "See? Look at that? I was right!" It happens in whispers. In comments. In unchecked biases. In rules that favor certain types. It displays itself in absence.
I don't know how to name it, fight it, overcome it or even really expose it. But like Sheryl, the best I (or any other woman I know) can do is to keep our heads down and work hard and push through it so more of us get into power positions like Sheryl and even out the deck. On the way we are going to think we're crazy and feel isolated and understand we need to work 5x harder to prove that we are worthy of our successes. We need to toot our own horns and ignore those who call us 'self-promoters' (I've heard this insult countless times). We need to seek out amazing men who get it and who will help us through their power to get there. We need to stop apologizing, using passive language (I do this too much) and just say, "I know what I'm doing. I'm awesome." We need to come together and support one another - name it, but then change it.
Thank you, Sheryl. Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Nilofer. Thank you, Cindy. Thank you every single woman who is on the Google Group, who has stood up, who continues to fight and who is paving the way. I'm in love with all of you. ___________________
Cool! My post has been picked up by:
- Ben Rooney at WSJ - The Subtle Sexism in the Tech Industry
- Alyson Shontell at Business Insider - Hey VC's! Stop Saying This to Female Entrepreneurs!
- Rachel Sklar at Change The Ratio