Trading Places or The Switch V 2.0 – What Could Gender and Culture Balance Look Like?

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You know those movies where you wake up and suddenly you are in the body of your spouse, child, or otherwise and you have to spend the next 24 hours living in that body and life? The result is that you end up learning, knowing and experiencing what that might be like, and gaining all sorts of compassion and appreciation for each other’s experiences.

I started thinking about this in a conversation with a friend at dinner, after reading some of the latest articles on all of the gender dynamics, including:

The latest in Fast Company about Iceland making it illegal to pay men more than women for the same job and what the ramifications are, how that gets implemented, how people react and so forth.

And the Refinery29 article about the silent rise of the female driven economy with its staggering statistics that women’s access to capital has decreased: In 2015, women were receiving 15% of total VC funding and in 2017 that declined to 2%. Clearly, when a population influences 85% of consumer spending yet only receives 2% of venture funding, something clearly needs to shift.

The question that came to mind, other than the obvious, is what exactly does that look like?

I started imagining what would it look like if we all woke up one day and rather than having switched bodies per se, we actually woke up in a world in which funding was equal and maybe even it wasn’t out of force, but out of harmony. What then might business or the world look like?

It reminded me of one of the conversations I have with men in my circles when they are at home raising their kids and their wives are nagging them and telling them how to raise their children better or different and they feel emasculated. What if they understood that the reverse is often true when women are in a working environment and women are getting “mansplained” on the ways that men have been doing business for decades, centuries or more and how they could do it better or different? Women too feel similarly – perhaps even “effeminated?”

And what if we could wake up to a world that was balanced across gender and culture? What a different world that might be.

Imagine that for a moment.

In surfing, the minute a woman surfer paddles into the line up; things change, the energy changes. At first, there might be a little nervous energy, perhaps even some aggressive behavior lingering from when there were only men or even a little showboating in the line up to get the woman’s attention. But within a few minutes, the surfer girl/mermaid sprinkles her pixie dust, laughs a little, shares a smile or a story and somehow things lighten up. If another woman paddles out, this usually increases as the mood somehow shifts and eases, almost as if there is a collective sigh of relief somehow, maybe even a rebalancing?

What would that look like in boardrooms or pitch competitions or otherwise with that rebalancing and not so much of the awkward intermediate and transitional stages?

Imagine that a woman doesn’t show up immediately nagging her male counterparts on what they are doing wrong, but rather adds a voice of insight or perspective that is well received and listened to, and things begin to shift. She also doesn’t show up needing to prove herself and her worth with how much she knows, who she knows or how smart she is to be taken seriously, and rather sits comfortably in her knowingness of contributing not to be heard and seen, but rather strategically at the most opportune moments. Or the men don't dismiss her or take her speaking out as a man would as aggressive, but rather listen and see it as an equal contribution or don't steal it as their own.

Imagine how men feel when they find a woman they really like, are even falling for, and how they bend over backward to court, protect, honor, and even, lift up those women. What if that respectful, almost reverent behavior got extended to more women in business and venture capital settings?

What would it look like if women didn’t have to hide their beauty for fear of getting hit on at any meeting? How would men feel if we could skip ahead through some of this gender rebalancing that is currently going on and could show up at a meeting and not get thrown a lot of hate for being male, and maybe even white and privileged? Or women could not have to worry about how they answer every question, how they dress, or other areas that they are constantly having to adapt and adjust to outside of their area of expertise and content?

What if men could show up at meetings and didn’t have to prove their masculinity or worry about being inappropriate or be misunderstood when they came from a place of softness or “perceived weakness?”

The reality is that we do live in a world in which there have been systemic imbalances for a long time that have economically favored men. However, they too have had many of the negative consequences of patriarchy to mess with their sense of self, balance, reality and otherwise that may not show up as obviously as it does for women. As someone who has first hand witnessed little boys being told that they are stupid, or to suck it up, to not cry or to bully another boy or girl, I can understand the long term implications of that kind of self defeating behavior and how it can create the Harvey Weinsteins or likewise 20, 30, or 40 years later.

I have heard stories of my friends’ little girls going to school dressed in an “inappropriate” outfit and being sent home because of the teacher or schools fear that boys will be boys and they don’t want to provoke any inappropriate behavior on the boys part. But what if they started holding boys accountable at earlier ages for their behavior, so that as they get older, they learn what behaviors are appropriate and which aren’t?

Then as they get older, there would be less #metoos and perhaps not the backlash that we are currently seeing of men afraid to do business with women, invest in women or for fear of the negative consequences.

What would business look like in general if power dynamics could shift? That is, when a man shows up and is weak in a deal or negotiation that is often seen as an opportunity to attack. Yet if a woman shows up vulnerable, then men often feel the need to swoop in and save women. Could it look different if when someone showed their vulnerability (man or woman) in a deal, and rather than an opportunity to attack, it could be seen as an opportunity to create a win-win? These are some of the values that Millennials bring and are demanding more of.

What are the opportunities that will be afforded to us all, when these gender biases shift?

Imagine that words like strength, vulnerability, aggressive, bossy, and others weren’t so charged and came with such different gender labels. Imagine if men could show their softness and women could show their strength and it wouldn’t get mis- or mal-perceived. And rather than worrying about all these social, gender and cultural imbalances, everyone could come together and focus on their strengths, share their passions, and come together in abundance, not fear, discomfort, scarcity, and then attack or retreat mode.

While I don’t have the answers to what the world would look like if we were further along in gender, or even cultural, balance, but perhaps as we move forward in thinking about this for ourselves or in these discussions with others, that we can do so from a perspective of compassion and kindness. Maybe, rather than projecting our own anger and hatred at others for all of the ways in which we’ve been harmed or hurt, which will only further widen the gap, not shrink it, we can find space to share from a place of softness, of how we want to be heard, and listen and really hear each other. In my experiences, that sharing from vulnerability and compassion leads to understanding and often, even, sharing some experience that connects us further rather than dividing us. But we have to be willing to go there instead of posturing in our respective positions (another side effect of patriarchy).

Isn’t the point of all of this in the end to heal more quickly and to solve these problems more quickly for our own generation and those after us so it becomes a thing of the past, not a continued battle that further divides?

How would it look in your world if you woke up and things were gender and culturally balanced? How can you show up in the world every day to get us there faster?