Where are all the women? Let me paint the scene: it’s Wednesday evening and Edinburgh TechMeetup is in full swing. Because of a projector mishap, we all crowd into a small conference room to see the presentations. I suddenly notice I’m the only woman in the room. When the guy next to me ignores the ten other bodies crammed around him and asks me to hold his beer, I realise I’m in trouble.
In general, I don’t like to talk about gender issues. Highlighting disparities between the achievements of men and women feels unproductive, and like a cop-out. Why were there no other women at TechMeetup that week? Perhaps they just had more demanding social calendars than me and the 50 men who attended.
Then again, maybe there is something more perverse than the release of SATC2 at work. On Friday, Informatics Ventures hosted “New Approaches to Leadership for Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs, Managers & CEOs”, a workshop with an exclusively female guest list, headlined by three powerhouse women from the States.
Two things made this conference different from other “women in business/entrepreneurship/tech/science” events I’ve been to in the past.
First, Fiona Murray, a native Brit who now lectures at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, made a convincing case for addressing womens’ business issues separately from mens’. Namely, successful business people speak a certain type of language, which men tend to speak better than women. It’s easier to talk about these differences—and learn to emulate the more successful behaviours—in the absence of men.
(If you don’t believe me, imagine trying to learn to juggle in the presence of a bunch of acrobats. Now imagine learning to juggle in a class full of juggler-noobs. Isn’t that more palatable?)
Second, this event was strictly no-apologies. Our hosts weren’t offering us counseling for any wrong-doing we might have suffered, or opportunities we may not have been offered. Instead, Fiona and her colleagues told us that successful habits are learned, and improve with practice. We identified a few big targets (for instance, the all-important ability to convey a clear and inspiring vision), and got to work.
Of course, this man-woman dichotomy isn’t the only one that’s relevant to learn from in business. Compared to entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Scottish entrepreneurs pitch more tentative, less visionary futures for their businesses. In part, that’s a response to differences in the funding climate, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the bullish confidence of our American peers. Likewise, women experience a different business climate than men, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to achieve the same level of success.
So let’s get over this “woman thing”. And while we’re at it, this “Scottish thing” as well. With practice and determination, we’re every bit as good as the next guy.