Women Must Focus On Building Authority

From Wikipedia to WeWork and work-from-home, our future is at risk without more authority

Two stories got me fired up last week: Wikipedia editing out entries of prominent women and the WeWork documentary about CEO/founder Adam Neumann. And that is on top of my on-going angst about women (not) at work and kids (not) in school. All have in common something we need to talk more about: women and authority (or lack thereof).

And I’m not talking merely about women in power, female CEOs, women world leaders, etc. Those are all tactical proof points to the concept of female authority. Because if all women are unable to make gains in clout, then our collective progress is built on sand. And we will continue to see how easily a crisis like the current pandemic can collapse decades of progress.

First …Wikipedia

Wikipedia can be a great marketing tool which is why you’ll see loads of executives included. Some worthy of such a placement, and frankly many not. When I was CEO of a tiny London startup, we had someone write a profile for me and the two (male) founders. None of us really were newsy enough to warrant entries. But at least I had well over the requisite ‘attribution’ links required (e.g., links to articles about me or where I was quoted). The ‘founders’ of this start up? Well they had (at the time) not a single notable mention. And, yet, guess whose profile was removed by the Wiki police?

I didn’t give this blip much thought until I read last week about the computer scientist Katie Bouman being hotly debated by the Wiki bros. Kate is an accomplished academic who captured the world's first image of a black hole. Even so, her bio was flagged as not notable enough.

And this led to bigger news that less than 20% of all biographies on Wikipedia are about women. And (surprise) 90% of the volunteer editors are men. The numbers should make us think twice about how much trust we put in this ‘source,’ as well as, how easy it would be for more women to muscle in as editors.

And … WeWork

Well, well, well, another documentary about a reckless man given millions (billions) to burn with his arrogance, lies, lack of true business acumen and (arguably) criminal behavior. We watch and shake our heads doing the 'tsk, tsk' thing…again. But really WTF. My friends and former colleagues reading this know 'that guy' really well. No matter how many times we speak truth, suggest temperance or implore good sense, this guy gets the big bucks and nodding heads. Watch the WeWork documentary and think about how many great women-run businesses could have been launched and accelerated with the $17.7 billion investor SoftBank lost…

Without ‘Authority’ Nothing Will Change

Arguably more shocking (albeit clearly not worthy of a Hulu documentary) is the on-going story of how women have been iced out of work by the pandemic. You've read the stories, seen the numbers, personally felt the pain. But this report by McKinsey puts the reality into seven stark and tidy charts.

Print out and save. Why?

Because if we got kids back into school and really took on today’s gender inequality, $13 trillion would be added to the global GDP. But it’s all big numbers and click bait headlines until women gain more authority to drive actual change. And this isn’t a new story, of course. The pandemic didn't cause our new reality, it just exposed how close to the surface it’s always hovered.

What Can We Do?

First we need to reflect on what 'authority' actually means... It's about having skin in the ‘right’ game. It’s about having a voice that matters. And making decisions where they count (and hurt). How we chip away at this will determine what type of future our daughters will have. A few ideas:

👉 Work, In And Of Itself, Is Not Authority

There is a persistent and mostly misguided notion that change will come as more women rise up into the C-suite. But even as women slowly achieve these titles we’ve seen little movement toward realizing that ‘trillion dollar impact’ reality. Why? Because the investors, the shareholders, the monied set are still men. So there has to be more…

👉 Getting Women Closer To The Money Is Key

One of the more obvious goals should be to encourage our girls to pursue (and keep) jobs in finance. If you have seen Godzilla vs. King Kong, think of it like getting to that power source (without the violence of course).

The nascent interest for girls is there and then it gets diverted. Studies have concluded that girls and boys are equally adept at mathematics. Girls are, in fact, slightly better at computation in elementary and middle school. But, by the time women pursue careers, less than a quarter take STEM jobs. And the number of women who ended up in venture capital (6%) or private equity (9%) are pitiful. This is where our authority to produce change falls of a cliff.

👉 A Loud and Persistent Voice Is Priceless

You might think, 'well that ship has sailed.' Well, no. Because we can be fierce and loud. We have strength in numbers. We are very, very good at mobilizing and can make the money men uncomfortable. And that is a power you can unleash today.

Get involved in volunteer organizations and local causes. Run for office. Call a friend and make a plan. There are many examples of our grassroots power. Moms Demand with its 6 million supporters and chapters in every state, for one. And they on the shoulders of organizations such as Moms Against Drunk Drivers; an organization that cut the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers in half.

The most important thing is to not shy away from speaking up. The older we get, the thicker our skin. We all have it within us to stand tall and make a change. It will only be our collective voices that change the paradigm.

💪 Make That List...Now

Fired up? Well, get started.

Go into Wikipedia and participate in the effort to edit women's profiles. Set up a Twitter account and start speaking up. Or find like-minded groups in Facebook. Get involved in a campaign or with a politician you believe in. Because you can make a difference.

For those in NYC, consider this: Mayor Bill DeBlasio won a second term with 795,679 votes. In a city with a population (in 2017) of 8,537,673. That is just 8.5% of the same New Yorkers struggling with a pandemic-ravaged cities and realizing how important it is to vote. So, today, you can start making an impact.

Every single one of you has a unique super power. And if you are looking for ideas to unleash the superhero within, contact me. To increase the authority of women takes every single one of us.