Thursday, October 29, 2009

Epiphany - Appreciating Women

One of my defining characteristics over the years was shattered while attending the TechFlash Women in Tech event last night and so today, I'm working on picking up the pieces and figuring out what to do with them all now. This happens a lot in the coaching work that I do, usually with other people - my clients - and now today, it's me. It's resulted in an epiphany that affects my business and, with any luck, perhaps our society as well. At least that's my intention.

Because of my interests in things like cars and airplanes, computers and technology, radios and electronics, leadership and business success, and science of both the fact and the fiction variety, I have had a lot more in common throughout the years with men than I have had with most women. I identified with men because we shared more interests and because of that, I tended to gravitate more towards them than towards women.

Early on in my life, this became a defining characteristic of who I am as a person. To illustrate, my first comment that I made over the fence to my neighborhood friends (boys) to describe the person I'd become best friends with for many years to come was, "I don't know who she is - some dumb girl!"

As much as I often felt an outsider in the world at large, it was never more true in my younger life than with my own gender. Romantic relationships with guys was tough enough, but I stopped seeking female friendships altogether. Even today there are men who are better at nurturing relationships than I am. It's probably not a stretch to suggest that most men are better at cooking than I am because at least they feel a drive to eat.

By the time I reached college, I began to have some clues that I didn't have to form friendships only with men. While there were only a handful of us in the aviation program at Big Bend Community College, I was not the only woman. Each of us was different, but we did share the sorts of commonalities out of which friendships are born - we were each driven by a love of flying and a desire to succeed that was larger than the obstacles in front of us.

But by then, the damage had been done. Whatever drives most women to seek out female companionship had been chased out of me. I hardly ever bothered to try and when I did, I didn't know how it worked. Ultimately, finding other women in the workplace who had similar interests and faced issues similar to mine made me realize I might be missing out on something by continuing to gravitate primarily toward men.

The true shift came when I was pregnant, a state that goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman and raises all sorts of issues we might otherwise ignore or never face. I was fortunate enough then to be introduced to an electronic global village of women all expecting babies at the same time - a cohort which I have deeply appreciated throughout the years, for we're all at least a little geeky (who else would have been looking for community via computer in the mid 90's!) in addition to being a caring group of women who work hard enough to appreciate and see past our differences that we are able to celebrate each other as individuals and the commonalities we do share.

Still, I continued to describe myself as a person more comfortable with male friendships than women friends - and it showed in how I thought of my business, despite the fact that I attract marginally more female clients than men. My epiphany last night, as I sat in a ballroom filled to capacity with inspirational women, was that this concept of myself was derived mostly out of habit at this point than out of any real truth. This is not to say that I don't still appreciate men or understand them - I know that won't ever go away. But there's something to be said for fully embracing a world of successful women in ways I hadn't bothered to consider before now.

There is more I have to say on this subject - much more. What it all means to me, and about me and my business. What is so important about being inspired by other geeky women and what I want to do about that. I have thoughts and opinions on the matter of women in business in general and in technology in particular that I've only shared bits and pieces of in the past. I feel like it's time to open up that dialog and see where it takes us.

For now though, I want to begin the process of assimilating these thoughts and while that will involve some talking (writing), it also means quiet, and listening - a 'feminine' skill I have managed to learn in more recent years and for which I am grateful. So, expect to see more on this subject - and feel free to enter into the dialog.

What possibilities open up by giving up long-cherished beliefs about yourself?