What you’re reading represents at least my sixth attempt at writing a coherent article expressing my views on women in the workplace. Previous drafts approached this subject from a biological perspective, others from the psychological, still others from the inevitable blend of the two. My wife read some of my early attempts then turned to me and asked “Why don’t you just write about your experiences?”
Hey, when she’s right, she’s right. So here goesÃ¢Â?Â¦
I have worked with and for many great people of both genders. In this article, I’d like to talk about a three of the women who stand out for me when I look back at my career to date and offer a few thoughts. I’ve changed the names but the stories are real.
In early 2003, I decided to create a series of DVDs to help teach authors how to market their books more effectively. These DVDs were designed to teach business skills in artist-friendly terms and to remove the mystique many (if not most) authors feel about marketing. My concept was to film different segments in different outdoor locations and to have a woman on camera with me so that we could have a series of conversations about each topic. My friend Catherine volunteered to help out for what we anticipated would be a few hours’ shooting.
We anticipated wrong. Filming required three long days of traveling from location to location in hundred-degree heat. For each location we had to unload, set up, and calibrate cameras and microphones. Cue cards had to be set up just so and we had to do take after take to get the flow just right, trying our best to look bright and perky despite the rivulets of sweat running down the insides of our black shirts. I’m a private pilot and wanted to shoot some aerial footage to create visual examples of some of the concepts being explained. Throw a pair of wings and a propeller on a preheated oven and you’ve got a pretty good approximation of what being inside the plane was like.
Despite the hardship, Catherine remained friendly and supportive throughout, even intervening when the cameraman and I got into a serious disagreement. Her dedication, creativity, and unconditional support kept me going and we wound up with not one but two finished products.
This would be a great story if it ended there but it doesn’t. With Catherine’s encouragement, I contacted Jay Conrad Levinson (of Guerrilla Marketing fame) to see if he would endorse the finished videos. Not only did he endorse them, one thing led to another and I have just finished creating a DVD product for him using the lessons I learned from those first projects with Catherine. And that’s not all: Mr. Levinson inspired and encouraged me to start my own business consulting/coaching practice and made me both a Guerrilla Marketing speaker and a coach on his online Guerrilla Marketing Association.
More than once I wanted to fold in the face of difficulty and accept my defeat like a man. Why kept me going? Catherine had donated many hours of her time and effort and had remained steadfast despite the many challenges. There was no way I could quit on her. To this day, she reminds me of the amazing work I’m doing and how convinced she is that I am destined for great things. After just over two years, I finally believe her. Thanks in no small part to Catherine’s professionalism on camera and unwavering faith and support off camera, I have not only a couple of video products but a whole new career as well.
A few years ago I worked for a dot-com company. This was a fast-growing firm with hands-on founders directing the expansion and development. A strong seat-of-the-pants mentality prevailed, one shared by the VP of Engineering, who I reported to. As a technical writer, I’m well accustomed to extracting information from recalcitrant engineers but this nut was particularly tough to crack. The fact that my direct report shared this attitude didn’t make matters any easier. Diane, the VP of Operations, was having none of it. Through her efforts, the Technical Documentation group was transferred to her department under Tina, the QA Manager. QA was in charge of testing code created by Engineering, which Operations then implemented and managed.
Things changed awfully quickly. QA demanded a set of documentation for each new release that included both functional and engineering specifications so they could know what exactly they were supposed to test. Those documents formed the basis for the QA specification. Operations then double-checked everything before taking the new code live. This whole process was assembled into a formalized release process that covered every new release from conception to live implementation and included plenty of documentation at every step. This effort resulted in improved release quality and better testing that reduced problems and helped in all areas of the company. It also kept me very busy, which I welcomed.
I’ve heard it said that men tend to be interested in carving out territory and status while women tend toward nurturing. While men think in black and white, women think in many shades of gray. Catherine’s example is one of pure nurturing. At face value, Diane and Tina’s example seems to be about power and status with Operations battling Engineering for turf and control within the company. But is it really about that? I think not. The guys in Engineering were hell-bent on progress. The women in Operations supported that progress 100% but wanted to make sure that everything happened in an orderly fashion to avoid chaos and disruption. Thus, they too were coming from a desire to nurture the company.
Men are powerful creatures. None of us would be here but for an unbroken chain of men who have successfully dominated predators and enemies since the dawn of time. The male drive to dominate has kept our species alive. Nature’s rules are very clear: those creatures unable to rise to the top of their ladders are eliminated, through premature death and/or the inability to reproduce. Might makes right. Or so I once thought.
Many years ago, another woman introduced me to the idea that power can also come from vulnerability- that being able to say “I love you” to someone might require even more strength than simply moving in for the kill.
I recently saw an ad from the 1950s showing a man wearing a shirt and tie lounging in bed with his arms behind his head as his kneeling wife sets a tray on his lap. The slogan read “Show her it’s a man’s world.” 20 years later (circa 1970), cigarette ads targeted woman saying “You’ve come a long way, Baby.” Was that ad was a response to the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s? If so, the implications are frightening for all of us.
In this man’s opinion, my gender has made the tremendous blunder of mistaking nurturing and vulnerability for weakness and inferiority. Today, I see women competing for equal treatment by emulating male tactics. The result? Women are increasingly suffering and dying from traditionally male diseases brought on by stress.
My two small examples highlight some of the many differences I see between men and women. I don’t for a moment believe that men and women are equal because we are physically, biologically, and psychologically different. That said, I don’t for a moment believe that men are superior to women in any way or vice-versa. Each gender has its inherent strengths and limitations that together have helped humankind flourish.
I owe parts of my career to some amazing women. My personal life is blessed by each of my female friends. It is my hope that mankind will learn to appreciate and value the quiet nurturing power that is womankind. Taking a look at the state of our male-run world, I hope this change occurs much sooner than later.