Evolving the Gender Discussion

I am a feminist. Of course I believe in gender equality, and equality for all people for that matter. I'm just not so sure we're going to get there if we continue to do only what we're already doing today.

Calling attention to the gender and minority gaps has brought us a long way. We have seen a lot of gains in the advancement of these groups of people, specifically in the American workforce, since we started the conversation. However, I am growing tired of hearing the same old statistics about pipeline and retention. According to the new Women in the Workplace 2015 study published by McKinsey & Company, we are still a long way from gender parity, especially in executive roles in Corporate America. Many companies have taken action to level the playing field, but how far have we gotten? I keep hearing talk around these issues, but nobody can deny that the numbers are falling short.

I understand our innate tendency to categorize people and put them into groups. From an evolutionary perspective, this trait often helped us to quickly assess a situation and determine if danger was near. We may not be able to deny this tendency in ourselves, but we can shift the focus. I'm concerned with how many people feel excluded from the conversations we're currently having. I am a white, heterosexual female and I often feel left out of conversations about gender. I don't fit neatly into the bucket that characterizes all women. The advice to lean in and speak up is great advice for those who need it, but I am tired of hearing that I lack certain qualities or skills simply because I identify as a woman. I can only imagine how many others feel, whether they are simply further on the outskirts of culturally accepted habits and traits, or one of the millions of people out there who don't identify with our binary view of gender. At the recent Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing conference, I got to hear Isis Anchalee speak. She is the creator of the #ILookLikeAnEngineer movement. She told us about how proud she was to not only shatter stereotypes related to engineering, but how the movement has spawned new hashtags with their own movements. She made a great point that stuck with me when she said, "It is easy to start with women because we are half the population and because everyone has a mother, sister, aunt or daughter, but if we aren't fighting to make everyone equal, we cannot call it diversity." I think this is a powerful point, and that we are now in a time when we need to take the conversation a step further.

I'm not suggesting we don't need to focus on getting more people into certain industries, such as women in tech. What I'm suggesting is that we focus more on the diversity of perspectives and skills, rather than those superficial identifiers that we cannot change about ourselves. If we encourage people to develop and pursue their passions, and we do so in an earnest and genuine way, we can unlock limitless potential. At Grace Hopper, I also had the honor of seeing Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In. I love Sheryl's general message and platform, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed after seeing her live. One of her main takeaways to an audience of 12,000, primarily women in tech, was to stay in tech. There was no mention about pursuing passions or even finding ways to incorporate tech into your non-technical passions, but instead a stubborn insistence to stay in a technical field so we can hope to achieve 50/50 gender parity one day. This societal pressure can add mounds of unnecessary guilt to someone's conscience when they are considering a switch to a career that may in fact be a better fit for them as an individual. As a female who recently moved out of a traditional "engineering" role, I can speak to this guilt firsthand. When people today ask me what I do, I still feel the need to explain that until recently, I was in an engineering role.

What answer do I have in mind? I'm not 100% sure of the form it will take, but I do have a few ideas. I would love to see us move as a society to embrace the individual. I'd like for us to focus our attention on the unique strengths that people have spent years consciously developing and honing. I want us to encourage people to pursue their passions, and then give them the education and resources they need to do just that. I think we can take steps to eliminate biases in the hiring process, much like the world of orchestral music has eliminated biases in their auditions: by removing the ability of the judges to determine the gender of the candidate. It is important to continue identifying biases and encouraging people to work through and eliminate them, but we can also put measures in place that eliminate the possibility for bias in the recruiting process. We can have candidates remove their names before submitting resumes to prevent potential gender or racial bias, or the dates from their education section to prevent ageism, just to name a couple.

I don't have all the answers. I would love to hear your ideas for evolving our current situation and the gender discussion. I just know that in my professional career, I've heard a lot more about achieving gender parity than I have seen in results. I would love to see us expand our thinking outside of traditional gender roles and move beyond these identifiers. We should value the unique individual and appreciate the light and value that they, and nobody else, brings into this world.