Bloomberg Businessweek featured an article this week entitled “Girl Talk – The Female Solidarity, Have-It-All, Feel-Good Machine” by Sheelah Kolhatkar. The article discusses the preponderance of women’s empowerment conferences, headlined by such impressive women as Michelle Obama, Xerox CEO Ursula Brown and Jessica Alba. These conferences draw thousands of women, garner thousands of dollars a ticket and are sponsored by well-known and well-established companies like Deloitte, Citigroup and Zurich Insurance. The interesting piece of the article, however, asked the question: notwithstanding the multitude of these conferences, were they doing anything to effectuate change?
People make comments such as, “A women’s initiative? Why don’t we have a men’s initiative?” Or, “We treat everyone equally here, everyone is the same. We are gender blind.” The message that these comments convey is that a separate women’s initiative is not necessary. If the corporate world was truly equal and both genders had the same ability to succeed and climb, I too may subscribe to that line of thinking. But the reality is that we simply do not live in that kind of perfect world.
While a company certainly cannot stop an employee from filing a gender discrimination suit, perhaps it can prevent women from feeling that a lawsuit is the only solution. Or, at a minimum, if the company does find itself in the unfortunate position of being in a courtroom, it can present viable arguments that it makes every effort to truly give women the same opportunities as men.
Ready or not, the marketplace is changing. In fact, it has changed. I attended the Pennsylvania Conference for Women in November where approximately 8,000 women from the area participated in a day of sharing ideas, learning from each other and networking.