Oh, if DMs could talk! Well they do, our private and direct messages on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack etc…are anything but private. This age of social media depends on giving us a facade of privacy. The only thing keeping me from making public screen shots of direct messages from colleagues, allies, friends and frenemies is a sense of etiquette. A message that was sent within a company Slack, or a comment made on a DM means it wasn’t intended for public comment or discussion – therefore it is not to be shared. Oh, but if…just if…what would these private messages show us…about us? About the small sacrifices, personal pleas and egocentric statements that tend to show us how we really are – rather than who we present on public channels.
The wonderfully talented Joy Blundell wrote a powerful blog recently – her response to #MeToo – that touched a nerve with me. This paragraph in particular about choosing not to do business with a person, if I read the blog correctly, who abused her trust:
“Saying no is not enough – run. Cut them off. Even if it’s bad for business. Always choose what will allow you to look at yourself in the mirror, years from now, and know you were on your side.”
“Even if it is bad for business.”
There used to be a piece of so-called conventional wisdom about the difference between how Americans and British people do business. The idea was that British people did business with people they knew and trusted and Americans did business with people that could make them money. This was used in the 90s to explain why Americans made so much more money than British people. There are many people who prize wealth and influence as the main indicator of success in the Western world.
However, wealth and money does lend itself to power. And that power gives many the privilege to decide with whom and where they do business. Most of us do not have that privilege. Most women definitely do not.
In this age if #MeToo I feel it is unfair when the media hold up pictures of smiling women in the entertainment industry standing next to Hollywood monsters as if this was some of sort of evidence of their hypocrisy. I see women making a decision based on survival – one that forces you to decide whether being able to ‘look at yourself in the mirror’ is worth bankruptcy, loss of networks and a career you have spent a lifetime fighting for.
I have worked for companies that have decided not to work with certain sectors (such as tobacco) or certain countries (such as Saudi Arabia) for ethical reasons. The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, has a (frankly fucking bizarre) rule that he is never alone in the same room as a woman who is not his wife. These are all one off decisions – that do not impact the overall profitability of a company (there are other sectors, other countries, to do business with) or the day to day activities of one deluded member of the US executive branch.
Women do not have that privilege. If I decided never be in a room alone with a man who wasn’t my husband, 90% of my career would have never happened. Hell, I have been the only woman on stage, all day, at events three times! There have been several times in my career when I had to, was forced to, work with a man who made me uncomfortable. There are several pictures of me, floating around on Twitter or on Facebook memories, smiling next to men I never want to see again, never mind do business with.
Women make decisions every day about what they need to be complicit with … in order to survive. If we jumped at every man who made a sexist joke or a tone deaf comment at work, we’d never get anything done …so we laugh it off. If we refuse to attend an event or contribute to a report, hosted by men who have shown they have no respect for us, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot and are seen as being ‘difficult’.
I have a reputation for being ‘opinionated’. I speak my mind – on stage, on social media – it has given me a ‘reputation’. I would like to say it is because I am 45 years old and have worked in FinTech for 24 years and I have earned my right to ‘tell it like it is.’ But, seriously, I’ve been like this my whole life. A debate at my elementary school in the first grade, on the existence of Santa Claus – where I argued until the teacher broke it up – is one I remember fondly. (Although, looking back now, I wasn’t actually on the factual side of that debate – sorry, my debate opponent…wherever you are) Anyway…
I now find myself in a interesting position. I am a know-it-all and opinionated and answer no know one but myself. If I hurt my reputation – by mouthing off – I am the only one hurt. No corporate PRs will be blamed for failing to rein me in. Because of this, I often get other women asking me to ‘speak for them.’
‘Liz, should I tweet this?
‘Liz, can you tweet this for me, I don’t want to get in trouble?’
‘Liz, can you post this blog I wrote on your page, so it looks like it originated with you?’
All of these requests come from the same place: I don’t want to get in trouble, I don’t want upset any men, because if I do that, it will be bad for business…it will be bad for me.
There are many ways to silence women. Some of them use physical power, some political, some economic. For a woman to make a decision not to support or do business with a man or an organisation who has hurt them, or has shown how little respect they hold for them, is a huge fucking deal. It is a decision that can have major repercussions on our ability interact, to network and to do business.
Before the resurgence of #MeToo and all the horror stories that have come out in the past year – women have had ‘whisper’ networks. DMs get shared, drinks get poured, advice is dispensed.
Then, we as women, make our decisions. How much of it do we decide to be complicit with in order to survive?
The message men should get from #MeToo is not how many women have had to confront a sexual predator for a part in a Hollywood movie – but how many of us don’t have the privilege of looking ourselves in the mirror any more.
Tune in to ‘Well, actually, Navigating the future of our industry in the age of #MeToo‘ on February 20th.
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