Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gender credibility

One of the recurrent themes for me over the last couple months has been how gender effects credibility. It started when I received feedback from a conference workshop that said I should try to look "more like a CEO." Really? What kind of feedback is that? Even worse, the same commenter added that I "obviously have a wealth of knowledge about and passion for" the subject matter. So then why were the comments aimed at my appearance? (For the record, I was wearing a totally respectable dress, although I had broken a heel before the workshop.) And what does a CEO look like, anyway? Do they all run around in suits? or is it that I don't look like a CEO in really any respect, so there's already a disconnect no matter what I'm wearing?

Let me also say that if I had received a comment complimenting my appearance, I would react the same way. Why is it ok, in a business context, to comment on my appearance? Would you ever write a comment to a male presenter that it was obvious that he was knowledgeable, but you hated his tie? or his pants were wrinkled? and that counted against his credibility?

My snarkiness pushes me to think that there's no way for me to look more like a CEO without somehow growing a penis, but that's only part of the issue. There are lots of professional and respected women, so then I start the self-reflection process. What is it about me that is soliciting this type of reaction? I like to dress up, particularly in dresses and heels. I speak my mind, I own my geekiness, and I love talking to other smart people who challenge me. I'm a bit of a gadget geek, I'm a bit of a gamer. I'm decisive and I'm a risk-taker. And yes, I'm a girl. In some cases, it seems that one genetic determination lessens my credibility for some people. Maybe its harder to accept knowledge or advice from me than it is a 45 year old guy. Maybe its really just my perception, my filter, my sensitivity to gender issues that makes this such an issue for me.

But I don't think its appropriate to comment on my attire. I don't think my credibility is tied to my weight, or whether or not I'm wearing lipstick. It's not ok in business situations to call me "honey" or "doll" or say that something I've done is "cute." I'm not easily offended, rarely ever, really. But it makes me crazy to think that what I look like, or simply the fact I was born female, makes me somehow less smart, less credible, less experienced, or in any other way "less." It also makes me crazy that otherwise sensitive, kind, and educated people sometimes inadvertently perpetuate the attitude that women are less credible or qualified by seemingly benign statements about appearance.

I'm not suggesting that we should all ignore the fact that there are differences between women and men. I'm suggesting we embrace those differences. We think differently, we communicate differently, and in many instances we work differently. And that's great. Its as it should be.

But if you say something to me that you wouldn't say to a male peer, I'd challenge you to tell me why. Chances are, you shouldn't say it to me, either.

My blog as the undead

I am embarrassed that I haven't blogged since June 10. That's a lifetime in the Twitterverse. I've spoken at conferences, attended conferences, we've finished projects and started new ones, hired people...I mean, a lot happens in a month and a half. Although my blog still feels sometimes like the stodgy old piece of my social media portfolio, its a piece that serves a purpose that no other outlet allows me to reflect on ideas, concepts, and goings on (in more than 140 characters). So I'm reviving my blog, circling the wagons around some ideas that need sorting out, and hoping that you'll jump back in with me to reflect and rant and review.

And I'm hoping this is the last time I apologize for favoring some social media forms over others...its both form and function that draws my interest, but no need to throw out the older formats. And so, we're back, baby!