Women in management and the danger of over-thinking it

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Marissa Mayer just delivered a talk at the Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) Conference at the MIT Media Lab this morning and is the inspiration for this post. Some of her sound bites:

  • Creativity loves constraint.
  • Passion is a gender-neutralizing force.
  • Don’t let the urgent drown out the important.
  • Find your rhythm.
  • Do something that you are not ready to do.

“Passion is a gender-neutralizing force” is by far the one that most resonated with me. It was very fortunate that nobody told her that she’s brilliant… for a woman. Or the fact that she’s the best student in chemistry is unusual… for a woman. I think that as much as it is important to discuss gender issues in the workplace, there’s also a danger associated with it. What is the value in walking into a room and immediately zeroing in on the fact that you’re the only woman present? None, that I can think of. Or maybe my experience has been slightly different from that of women in North America.

Philippines, where I’m from, is a very patriarchal society. Yet, it has elected 2 women presidents and is top 5 in the proportion of women in senior management. The most admired Senator is a woman, Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Other than sports usually dominated by men, there is no qualifying statement when describing a woman’s achievements.

In my recent experience of exploring a technology solution for farming cooperatives in the Philippines, I never felt uncomfortable whether it was talking to a senior level manager at the 4th largest bank or interviewing farmers, mostly men. It was my husband who pointed out how remarkable it was that I could present our idea with no danger of being dismissed because of my gender. Contrast that to presenting the same idea to events in North America – whether it’s in Montreal, Canada or Cambridge, MA, where I am extremely conscious that I’m presenting it to a room full of men. I second-guess myself, my opinions, my thought processes.

Yes, there is a need to push for more women in management because there is no denying that the gap exists. But there is also a need to focus on what’s important for any woman to be fulfilled, professionally and personally: What drives you? What makes you want to get out of bed and want to kick some a**?

In short, what is your passion? Because, once you know that and you find your spot in management or elsewhere, no gender bias can stop you. It becomes irrelevant. It becomes a non-issue. Thanks to people like Marissa Mayer who has demonstrated that.


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