Dealing with Don Draper - An Open Letter
Each week, I typically sit down to write with a nugget of an idea about something someone has asked for advice on over the past few days, and riff on that theme with the intention of sharing knowledge that’s been gained from years of experience with the hope it might resonate with a reader or two. And then there are the times where I go less of the “share wisdom” route, and instead, speak to a point of view on something. Usually, that is prompted by a topic I find particularly irksome. Rather than just go on an unproductive rant, this is one of those posts. Consider this is a personal open letter to men with closed minds.
Let me start by telling you who is writing this letter. I am an executive with a career built in startups and redefining how people approach the human side of business. I am in the relatively unique situation of having played a role on senior leadership teams since my late twenties. I was fortunate enough to figure out what I was passionate about early on in my career, and have pursued early stage companies who have that rare balance of the potential to really take off combined with an exceptional CEO who “gets it.” I have chosen wisely; I have worked at some truly successful companies. Almost more importantly to me, however, is that I have worked with some outstanding leaders. Until recently, I didn’t realize how rare a thing that was. By the way – I am a woman.
As a human being, I am fairly fearless. I am comfortable taking disciplined risks because I am content in the knowledge that I will sometimes fail – and I’m ok with that. I believe success is a poor teacher, and I embrace missteps as an opportunity to learn. I am also quite comfortable sharing my thoughts. Some might refer to that as radical candor or courageous authenticity. I don’t know where that ability comes from, but I do know I feel a compelling drive to search for truth and fairness. I also know some people aren’t as comfortable embracing that true voice themselves, and I do my best to represent a shared point of view if they aren’t willing to do so. I do that now.
Over the last several months, one just needs to scan the news to hear about the latest sexual harassment scandal or the recent internal memo shared around at Google. I’ve tended to pay more attention to it of late, as it would appear we are trending on a downward trajectory. It’s notable to me because my experience as a woman in business has always been a relatively easy one. The first company I ever worked for instilled in me the notion that if I contributed value and impact, I would be recognized for it. The fact that I was a woman was a non-event. I realize this is an anomaly for many women and for other minorities as well. As such, I truly am grateful. As my career grew, I found that I pursued like-minded leaders in my future jobs, and have worked my tail off building cultures which support that type of inclusion. Those companies have thrived.
Fortunately, while my companies have always offered healthy environments for women, I’ve still had to endure the same BS many women face. I’ve had my butt grabbed by clients. I’ve been asked by men if I had to sleep with someone to get ahead. I’ve been told that having children would destroy my career trajectory. How does this still happen in today’s day and age? Because some of you are just embarrassingly behind the times. Let me share just one recent example to highlight my experience.
I went to a Red Sox game with a good male friend recently, and we met up with a group of his friends after. When everyone is casual and you are just hanging out with a new group of people, I always find it fun to learn about what people do for a living. Often times, men are both surprised and supportive when they learn about my career. And then sometimes they aren’t. In the course of an afternoon hanging out with some “seasoned businessmen,” let me share some of the random comments thrown my way.
Perhaps they will give you a small indication of what working women have to deal with:
“There are only two women in our entire company. No, I don’t have an issue with that, because that’s the way the world works. Our clients have zero interest in working with anyone who doesn’t look like them.”
“Do you think you are screwing up your kids because you aren’t around for them?”
And my personal favorite…”There is a reason women like you are hard to date; your success affects our self-esteem.”
We as a society can do better than this. We are better than this.
I am fortunate to work with a team of men who operate completely counter to this Mad Men-era thinking. They are inclusive and supportive. My gender serves as an advantage; they realize I see the world differently, and that perspective broadens the possibilities. But the rest of you; those who view us women as somehow “less than”? Wake up. The world is changing. Boys clubs and “bros” might still dominate the boardroom, but activists are fighting back. Just this week, State Street voted against 400 companies and their re-election of directors for failure to add any women to their boards. It’s a small step, but change is underway.
Many of you have daughters. Consider the world you are creating for them. The playing field is not equal out of the gate; consider what you and your male colleagues are doing to make it more difficult for them. Don’t they deserve the opportunity to do intellectually stimulating, meaningful work in a rewarding environment too?
I am not an angry woman with an extremist agenda. I’m someone who has paid her dues, and worked exceptionally hard to create workplaces where everyone thrives. Gender, race, cultural differences – it’s all irrelevant to me. I care about people I work with sharing a common set of values and mission to accomplish greatness. I’ve learned over the years when you have that kind of diverse perspective on teams, the likelihood of success is that much greater. And isn’t business really about maximizing outcomes?
So thank you, leaders of Rapid7 and many of my former colleagues, for helping foster an environment which creates a more equal playing field for all of us. And to those men among you who are still chest bumping and huddling together in your conference rooms regaling your days of lacrosse and drinking while excluding anyone different than you from the conversation, smarten up. We aren’t there yet, but it’s coming. And should you fail to change your point of view on women, you’ll be left behind. As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his (or her!) point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Give it a try. You may find yourself a little more enlightened. And your business just might prosper as a result.