I’ve been an entrepreneur for much of my career, first as a producer/co-owner of an independent TV production company and then as a tech- startup founder.
Most of the companies I have joined or founded were female-led businesses in male-dominated industries. I’m used to being the only woman in a group of men in a variety of professional contexts. I have learned to navigate those spaces and be comfortable within them while being conscious of having to keep myself safe.
I’ve faced my share of obnoxious moments in my career. Having a former mentor greet me at a professional event by loudly telling me how sexy I looked, and then asking everyone around us if they agreed with him. Meeting with an investor who had requested to learn more about my company, only to have him ask if I could host an open house for his condo because I had “the right look.” And even having someone offer to fund my career early on if I left my partner at the time and became his girlfriend instead.
These are pretty minor infractions compared to what other women have dealt with. I was never in danger. But the fact that these things happen regularly, that there is an accumulation of these inappropriate moments, is both infuriating and exhausting.
For me, #MeToo was a welcome movement that inspired and created space for women (who were safe enough to do so) to be able speak out about the sexual harassment and assault we had been quietly facing throughout our lives. We were seen and heard and the volume could not be ignored. I hoped it meant things would change for us.
Too Big A Risk?
Things have changed, many for the better. But at the same time we now have some people in power interpreting #MeToo as an attack to protect themselves from, rather than an opportunity to become an ally or an agent for positive change.
Tony Robbins publicly admitted that because of #MeToo he has been advising male executives to not hire attractive women because “it’s too big a risk.” Several news outlets have explored this risk, discovering many men in power will now refuse to even meet women alone because they’re scared of being wrongly accused of something inappropriate.
This is so effed up. Women bravely come forward to share what has been happening to us — sometimes putting careers and reputations on the line — and rather than cultivating empathy and trying to help, some men are instead choosing to “protect” themselves and their careers from women. This fear trend insinuates that women need to use, or misuse, #MeToo to succeed. It’s deeply appalling, especially after we’ve spent so much time and effort trying to succeed despite this extra layer of B.S. we face.
I think we can all agree that the majority of women aren’t going out into the world seeking to be assaulted, or pretending to be assaulted in order to profit off of it. Most of us are simply trying to pursue our business dreams just like male entrepreneurs, on our own merits. If you agree with that and want to help women instead of hide from them, here are some ways to be an ally in the #MeToo/#TimesUp era:
Provide female colleagues with opportunities to speak and to be heard.
In group settings, pay attention to who is doing most of the speaking and who may need a question to give them their opening.
Recognize our ideas.
Don’t repeat our ideas minutes, hours or even days later and then take credit for them. This seems like a clichéd joke, but it’s only a cliché because it happens.
Don’t use professional opportunities to pursue a romantic or sexual agenda.
If you want a date, don’t hide it under the auspices of a business meeting. Be clear and respectful.
Invite us into the inside track.
If you notice you’re at events, meetings, etc. that are frequently all/nearly all male, invite some female colleagues to attend.
Create safe spaces by speaking up.
If you see something, say something. We don’t need bodyguards, but just keeping an eye out and ensuring others are keeping their behaviour in check can make a huge difference. If you call someone out for inappropriate public behaviour, it sends a message and may prevent them from harming a woman privately.
While there are those who are using #MeToo as an excuse to keep women out of male-heavy sectors, I am grateful for the champions I have in my life — both male and female — who are working to get more incredible women into entrepreneurship and tech, and to create a culture that is free of harassment and assault. Collaboration and action can make #MeToo a positive turning point for us all.
Erin Skillen is the COO/co-founder of FamilySparks, a mental wellness startup for families and businesses. She is a VIATEC board member.
This article is from the December/January 2019 issue of Douglas.