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Women’s Empowerment Groups Have Got It All Wrong

women's empowerment groups

I am a huge advocate of women in leadership. I’m even an honorary member of the Working Women of Tampa Bay (A woman’s group who does a lot of things VERY right). This is important to know before you read any further. I’m one of the men in America that believe women are amazing leaders and should be given access and equality to every opportunity that men have in business.

Every time I hear “We don’t book male speakers…” from a women’s empowerment group it saddens me to think how they are actually doing the opposite for their cause. It is wrong. It is sexist. And it needs to stop if they truly want to advance the cause that they so publicly state they want to advance.

A few months back I had the honor of speaking on a panel of women for the eWomen’s Network (another group that are doing things right). One of the themes or topics being discussed was the lack of access women have to leadership positions in Corporate America and a question given to our panel was, “How can women gain access to more of these opportunities?” My answer wasn’t politically correct, but it was 100% on the money.

If women want more access to the opportunities that men have in Corporate America, then they have to start becoming more accessible to men. Women’s groups that promote the notion of, “Created by women, for women…” DO NOT advance the cause for women anymore than a group “Created by African Americans, for African Americans” promotes equality for minorities in the workplace.

Why is this so hard to believe? Does an organization that is “Created by white men, for white men” like the KKK help advance white supremacy? It does not. In fact, it just makes the people in their group feel more entitled, and makes all the people outside the group look at them as isolationists that don’t have any interest in learning how the other half lives. And in this case, most people look at them as extremists that have a very myopic view on life, and it breeds resentment and hatred.

The KKK is as ineffective at getting the world to think that whites are better than anyone else, just as much as women’s groups are ineffective in getting the male dominated corporate world to think that women are better leaders than men. If you were to replace the word “women” with “white men” in the marketing and advertising, and mission statements of most women’s groups they would be labeled as racists or sexist overnight.

If women want to truly promote equality and have access to the same opportunities as men, then they shouldn’t be trying to organize groups of just women, and they sure as hell shouldn’t be refusing someone to speak for their events simply because they have a penis. It is the responsibility of the women in these groups to make sure that they invite men to attend their meetings. In fact, that should be the price of admission to these events! No man? No admittance. By this policy, then there would be an equal number of men & women AND they wouldn’t be ‘preaching to the choir’ they would be getting their messages into the minds of the people in Corporate America that can actually do something about it.

Agree? Disagree? Please share why. I’m open to a dialogue… because that’s how change is made. If I wanted everyone to agree with me then I would just write this blog and post in a group called, “Men Who Promote Female Leadership But Are Frustrated With Female Empowerment Groups.”

5 responses to “Women’s Empowerment Groups Have Got It All Wrong”

  1. Tara Minnick LaSalla says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. While women’s groups and frankly many niched groups haove honorable intentions, a lot of times they miss the whole point of the what they are ultimately trying to achieve. These are huge disconnects that result from being very myopic. It is hard to pin point why this happens, but I think women’s groups in particular are a result of a bad experiences in either the workplace or home. Creating your own little group is almost like an act of defiance saying I can do it and I can do this no matter what. But yes, at the same time you are really just hurting yourself.
    I see more and more of these all the time. My favorite example is when you have environmental groups such as Keep America Beautiful where the mission is to prevent litter and perform litter clean ups yet accept a donation of 250,000 water bottles from a big bottled water company. What do you think is one of the main pieces if litter that is picked up? Hmmm.
    Yes, big disconnects for sure. We definitely have to see the big picture

  2. Carla says:

    On the one hand I agree, discriminating based on gender is sexist no matter which way it goes. But the issue of male entitlement and consistently being behind the 8 ball is a real road block for women. I think the purpose of these groups is to give women, who have been turned down from speaking at events time and time again simply because they don’t have a penis, a chance to get speaking experience in their career. Men have consistently climbed on women’s shoulders to get where they are, and so women need a leg up to be on equal footing with men.

    If you think about it, when you’re turned away from these groups, you’re experiencing explicitly what women face implicitly every day. At least you can say it is definitely because of your gender, whereas women have to constantly ask themselves, is it my lack of ability or lack of the correct gender that is holding me back here?

    I think these groups, by turning men away, are also making a point about male entitlement. The way in which so many men react poorly when women take the forefront is a well documented phenomena, so maybe it’s worth asking whether there’s some element of that going on in your reaction to these groups.

  3. Claire Harrison says:

    I get what you’re saying but I don’t completely agree.

    For a few years I was the chair of a women in business group that held events on a monthly basis with a guest speaker. Like most business events they fulfilled the dual role of networking and professional development. Our attendees were predominantly women but we’d often have a small number of men attend, and our key note speaker was sometimes male. The fact we were called Women in Business and the events were often female centric, e.g. breast cancer fundraiser, at a day spa, personal stylist speaker meant that our events weren’t that attractive to men. The events, speakers and venues were selected to suit our predominantly female members. I believe that events such as this type have their place and benefit the wider business community as do cricket/football/golf days, business clubs/chairmans lounges, and specific industry group events such as mining, engineering and construction.

    I don’t think its about giving women an opportunity to speak to a group because they are rejected from the standard male dominated forum. The reason we selected our guest speakers was because they were relevant to the needs and interests of our audience. I have spoken at various business and networking groups and haven’t found my gender to be an issue.

    As for your suggested policy of “No man? No admittance” – it is ludicrous! When we’re doing the same in the reverse gender for every other business group, senior leadership team, and board position then will adopt your bring a penis policy!

  4. Karl Schwantes says:

    I have often found this frustrating as well. As someone that has often helped women’s groups with connections and introductions – I did find it hypocritical that they are happy to accept support but not attendance. I firmly believe in work place equality in every sense. My highest paid staff member is a woman. I think that they could do much more (and faster) for their cause by promoting equality. One question though – would this same woman’s group that turned you down also turn Richard Branson if he asked to speak at their event? I wonder how strongly they would stick to their principles then? My 2c 🙂

  5. Maureen Fitzgerald says:

    This has nothing to do with male and female speakers at all. These comments not only add to the confusion but once again divide women (sisters). Think of it this way: We have created a whole society and systems (corporate and economic) that benefit men. These systems keep men at the top and keep women out. So the only “good” speakers for women are the ones who challenge this whole system. We don’t need more men (or women) telling us to act more like men to get ahead (even if it appears to work in the short term). The other problem with men speakers generally is they tend not to see the system at all since they benefit from it and they tend to take up space that women need (eg. man-splaing). Women need sisters who understand this to be safe until the power shifts.

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