Women’s groups – why we need them

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I’ve had a couple conversations in recent days regarding the existence of women’s groups. They are everywhere these days – I even belong to several of them. I am on the steering committee for WINGs, Women Investing in the Next Generation, a circle of women giving to the United Way at recognized levels. I am on the board of directors of the Zonta Club of Cincinnati, a branch of Zonta International, a global women’s philanthropy organization. I am a member of the women’s affinity group here at my work. Clearly, I have bought into the idea.

Let me first discuss two objections to these groups. I’ve been presented with many of them, and I want to give them some space and some thought. All of these were presented to me by rational, kind-hearted individuals, so I believe they deserve some exploration.

First, the claim is that these groups are exclusive, and not inclusive. If what we really want is an inclusive society or workplace, why would we support an exclusive organization? On the absolute top surface of it, I understand why the people putting forth this objection have this issue. We are working for an inclusive society/workplace, and these are exclusive organizations. There are important reasons why we have to do this, and we’ll get to these reasons later.

Second, I’ve heard more than once, as I head out to one of my meetings, “You headed to one of your man-hater clubs?” Most of the time this is said in jest, but as we all know, there is always a kernel of truth in every joke. For some reason, there is an expectation that if we have an all-women’s group the focus must on our hatred of men. How surprised would they be to hear that the subject never, ever comes up.

So to answer these objections, why do we need these groups?

One of the first thoughts that comes to mind is a story that I am sure has been replayed in just about every home with children in America. It happened in my childhood home – and I was the culprit. Frustrated with my Mom for making me get dressed and go out on a picnic that did not cater to my 9-year-old desire to stay inside and read (yes, I was one of those kinds of kids), just to celebrate Father’s Day, I screamed, “Why do we have to celebrate Father’s Day? We don’t ever celebrate Kid’s day!” My Mom looked at me and said, quite sternly, “Every single day is Kids day! We have to pick one special day just to remember how much we love our Dads.”

In the simplest terms, this is exactly why we need women’s groups. In our society today, and in many of our workplaces, every committee is a men’s committee, every group is a men’s group. Just as “kids days” don’t exclude adults, so too do most “men’s” groups not specifically exclude women. However, because the default is men, we must do something special, something separate to recognize women.

It goes beyond recognition, however. Women need a place to feel safe, to explore the unique experience of being female in the corporate world. There are many academic studies out there that show that there is a dearth of women in leadership roles. This is not because women do not wish to hold leadership positions, but rather it is due to a complex web of organizational factors that hold women back.

Let me give a rather simple example. A young woman is at a company function. A man, senior to her in the company, says “You look fantastic!” as he stares directly into her cleavage. Now, she has a choice. Does she report this or not? I discussed this precise predicament in a previous post. But now lets say that she is part of a women’s employee resource group. She now has access to resources. She has an outlet to explore her options, and get feedback on possible actions. She understands that she isn’t alone, that it wasn’t her fault, and that she has other women backing her up, and helping her through.

I truly believe that most men and women understand the need for women’s groups, but I also know there are some men out there, and possibly women, who need some additional help understanding why these organizations continue to exist and thrive. I, for one, am grateful for the opportunities these organizations have given me to invest in my community, my workplace, and myself. I will continue to participate and support these organizations and the incredible women that are involved in them.

Do you have any experiences you would share about being involved in a women’s group? How have they helped you?

As always, keep it positive and smile! Happy Monday!

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Back to School…Finding the balance?

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I have a question: How do they do it? How do all of these families manage to get their kids involved in activities like, say, after-school enrichment that requires pick-up by 3:15? Or soccer practice that begins at 5:30?  Or the game starts at 6pm on the other side of town?

I’ve done some thinking on this issue, and it comes back to the idea of balance.  Or a better word – prioritization. Sometimes you can leave work early. Sometimes you cannot. Sometimes making the choice is extraordinarily difficult. Then there are the times where the decision is not so clear, and it is those moments we have to look at how we balance and prioritize our lives.

It is that time of year. The kids are back in school and the newness of starting a fresh year has worn off. The bus schedules have been deciphered, the noise of the alarm clock is now familiar (not that we got the summer off, but hearing it go off that early?). Homework has begun in earnest.

Along with all of that the evening activities have begun.  For us, that means soccer practice two times each week for two of the kids, play practice, drum lessons, saxophone lessons, voice lessons, gymnastics, freestyle gymnastics, running club…. Even with all of this, I am still wracked with guilt over the idea that I am not doing enough to expose my children to what they need to be successful in life.

On top of all of this, my husband and I have our lives, and we are still living them. We both have demanding careers. I sit on the board of the local Zonta Club, I serve on the steering committee (and a few other committees)  of a leadership giving circle for the local United Way, my husband is a semi-active member of the local guitar scene, and we are working on forming a family band.

As if that is not enough, I am back in school myself.

So the idea of balance is a funny word in this context. We, like a large number of families especially at this time of year are too busy to worry about balance. We just keep moving forward, on to the next activity, coordinating on the fly. This is not the ideal way to live, but there is not a single ball we are willing to drop. In fact, we keep looking for more.

But the lesson is to look for those opportunities where you have a choice. Do I really need to work late tonight? Does my son really need to participate in that activity? Be intentional about how you spend those moments, and then learn a lesson from me – let go of the guilt. Guilt is not a productive emotion, and should be relegated to the trash heap. Cherish every moment, both at work and at home, and cultivate an attitude of gratefulness. This is how you attain “balance.”

And keep it positive and smile!

Happy Friday!

Positivity in the workplace is a must!

smileThere is much talk around the need for positivity in the workplace, and I am here to tell you it is all true! Moods and attitudes spread like wildfire, and all it takes is one bad apple left unattended to spoil the whole work environment. What can make it even worse is two bad apples who inspire each other to lower and lower depths of negativity.  This kind of poisonous environment can have repercussions that ripple through an organization like a a boulder tossed into an otherwise pristine and peaceful lake.

I share here a personal story of mine that illustrates how easily this can happen and how it can affect a person completely unrelated to the negative situation.  Many years ago, I found myself sitting in the middle of a sea of cubicles.  I had direct access to my coworkers on every side for what seemed like miles and miles.  Great for communication, and, unfortunately, the perfect environment for spreading negativity.

Over the wall in one direction sat a lady who was highly talented, highly opinionated, and who had a difficult job.  Her job involved working directly on the phone with customers who often needed education, explanations, and assistance.  Across the aisle from her sat another talented, opinionated lady who also had a difficult job.  Her job involved interacting with these customers in a different capacity, evaluating their suitability for our product.

The problems began when these two ladies discovered that they held similar opinions about these customers.  One would complain about a recent phone call, how “stupid” the customer had been. The other would agree, and then share a different story about a worse phone call with an even “dumber”customer.  The first, sensing the competition, would then remember another situation that was even worse than that!  For some reason, these ladies had an inordinate amount of time to talk (surprising given the number of terrible or ridiculous phone calls they purported to have taken), and this back and forth would continue throughout the day, day after day.

Sitting over the wall from this I never once participated in these conversations, mostly because I was not invited to participate. But I took the negativity with me.  I remember being very upset leaving work every day and having no clear understanding of why. I hated work even while I loved my job and loved my company. Sometimes I was driven to tears on the drive home. This went on for some time. At some point someone must have finally noticed what was going on because without any explanation, the two women were separated.

I remember the next day as clearly as if it had happened yesterday.  It felt as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds.  The birds were chirping and even the air smelled sweeter.  The heavy cloak of negativity was obliterated and the entire atmosphere was different.  I drove home happy and smiling from work that day and each day after (well, most days anyway). Others took longer to recover, but for me the relief was instantaneous.

It took a little bit of time and distance to understand what had happened and what had caused the change.  Fortunately I stuck around long enough to get past the negativity, but I know others who left, who could not tolerate such a toxic environment. What a shame. To think it all stemmed from the conversation between two women complaining back and forth about their customers is rather incredible and should serve as a lesson to all leaders.

We need to pay attention to the atmosphere in our workplaces. We need to look for negativity, we need to take seriously any signs of it, and we must actively and expediently dispel it. The consequences of not acting are dire. Good talent will leave, productivity will decline, and the negativity will spread. Recovering from such a situation can be a lengthy and painful ordeal, and can result in more turmoil before the negativity is fully eliminated.

Even better idea – promote positivity! Every day and in every way you can.

Happy Thursday, and keep it positive and smile!