What prompted what will be one of my rare rants was an email I received this morning touting several new books on women and entrepreneurship. It came on the heels of debate in the media about the appointment of Marissa Mayer as the new CEO of struggling search engine Yahoo, the ongoing questions about why there aren’t more women in C-level positions in Fortune 500 companies or on their boards of directors, and arguments about why women-owned firms tend to be smaller than men-owned ones. Being a woman who has worked in male-dominated fields her entire adult career I had to weigh in, even if it might stir up some women who don’t necessarily agree with me.
Here’s my position. I do not want a job, position, or appointment that was given to me because I’m a woman. I do not want any special treatment from the government because I’m a woman, especially as a businesswoman. In short, I have always and will always earn what I have and do what I do through intelligence, hard work, and the ability to work with others. If I fail, it’s because I came up short. If I succeed, it’s because I earned it. No one else is responsible for either my successes or my failures. There, I said it and that’s how I feel.
In June I attended the highly regarded Directors College at the Stanford Law School where I met some amazing people including a lot of very successful women. On one panel, however, it was suggested by a well-meaning male that maybe we should require that public and private companies have women in at least 50% of the positions on their boards. You could have heard a pin drop when he finished; the room was completely silent until one woman jumped up and had the courage to say (and I paraphrase), that’s insulting to all women to say that they can’t get on a board without the law requiring it. We don’t want to get positions that way! And she was cheered enthusiastically by men and women alike.
It’s very much the same issue with women entrepreneurs. A lot of the research on women entrepreneurs is focused on finding ways to explain why there aren’t more women-owned businesses given that women comprise the majority of the population in the U.S. and control the majority of the wealth. Sharon G. Hadary, in a 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal, argues that there are two things holding back women from creating multimillion-dollar enterprises: 1) their own self-limiting views of themselves and 2) the stereotypes and perceptions of women by those in big business and government. So, I guess the bottom line is women feel their destiny is controlled by others. Give me a break!
The problem with these types of articles, even if they’re well-meaning and accurate in terms of the numbers, is that they actually perpetuate these horrible stereotypes of women as victims of a society that hasn’t gone much beyond giving them the vote.
I for one don’t want women to be a protected class like many other socio-ethnic groups. Why? Because it perpetuates the victim mentality and keeps people from becoming all they can be. Contrary to what some in the current administration believe, I and many other women like me made it on our own, through our own efforts, not giving in to the need to be treated special or given extra help because we’re women. In fact, like many of my counterparts, I have usually been in leadership positions in those male-dominated fields because I know how to get things done.
I am not saying that discrimination doesn’t exist. It most certainly does for women and other groups of people. But you have a choice. You can let it define you and limit your thinking and your goals while you wait for someone (government) to help you and make you even more dependent; or you can make new rules for yourself and figure out creative and courageous ways to get what you want out of your career and your life. I definitely choose the latter.