Empowering Women and Training Men
The trouble with female-oriented conferences
Conference season is in full swing and we have been lucky and privileged enough to be invited to a lot of them, especially the women-oriented ones. There is a disturbing trend I have been seeing at most of them; they focus on the “feel good” factor instead of hard business skills. I have never been to a “mixed” conference that had a poet or a life philosopher open the day, and yet every female entrepreneur conference seems to think that is exactly what we need or want. There is nothing inherently wrong with having soft openings, but why do we think only women entrepreneurs want to hear poems about feminine power when they came to a business event? Other instances have been downright offensive, including panelists asking a room full of entrepreneurs, who just happen to be women, if they understand their profit and loss statements to some seriously damaging generalizations of female approach to business as being more of hobby, or female-ran businesses all being automatically social businesses because women are more caring. Again, there is nothing wrong about being a business that cares, but that should be every business, not just female-owned businesses. On the other hand, when questions of work-life balance arise, panelists seem to all be dead set on claiming that women do not face different challenges than men, which is simply untrue and, again, damaging to the women in the room who are just starting out. This attitude ignores decades of social, economic and cultural oppression and inequality and the fact that for some women, working out of the house still means risking their security and safety.
While we are reciting poems and dancing to evoke our inner goddess, the men are learning about mergers and acquisitions, networking with venture capitalists and discussing global trends. I once heard a panelist say, “we empower women, but train the men”, and that is so true. While a female talent in a company is being “empowered” she is still paid less, and her male counterpart is being taken out to investor and client dinners and learning the ins and outs of business. If we truly want the UAE’s “girls club” to match the business success of the “boys club”, we need to start expecting so little of our events and ourselves and build the business acumen. That can only happen through a more structured, rigorous approach to business training and mentoring in the female entrepreneurial ecosystem.