My dad was a history teacher. He retired a few years ago, but for almost 40 years my dad taught middle school history and social studies in the public school system in the neighboring town where I grew up in the US. He used to run ‘The Civil War Club’ at the school.
Not sure whether the club would get past the ‘woke’ police in this day and age, but in the 70s and 80s in suburban New England my father used the club to teach battle plans and to re-enact decisive battles associated with the American Civil War. (The writers of Game of Thrones examined those same battle plans when staging the Battle of the Bastards episode from the last season – the one where super baddie bastard Bolton eventually gets fed to his own dogs…but I digress).
He had one rule when having his students re-enact the Battle of Bull Run or the Battle of Fort Sumter or any other well know episode in that dark period of American history.
Make sure all the General were girls.
Now, my father – wonderful supportive guy that he was for me growing up – isn’t a card carrying member of the third or fourth wave of modern feminism. He’s a man’s man. He played football. He had worked in construction. His favourite movie actor is John Wayne. I doubt he even knows what a ‘pussy hat’ is – never mind would wear one. But he knows people and he knew how to deal with children.
During a parent teacher conference he explained his policy to a bemused father who asked why his daughter (who had only recently stopped playing with Barbies) was now pouring over topology maps of mid 19th Century Virginia.
First off, according to my father, if he just asked the class which soldiers or historical figures they wanted to inhabit during the reenactment, none of the girls would come forward to be the Generals because girls don’t expect to made the leaders (this was the 1970s, after all).
My father could have just listed the parts available for the re-enactment, watched as all the boys grabbed the roles as Generals, and then shrugged his shoulders at the lack of girls leaders at the club, as if he was powerless to change the environment he was in.
One thing my father was not, and is not, is powerless.
The way to make sure that he had girls acting as Generals, was to make sure that all the Generals were girls. Simple, straightforward, no apology.
There was another reason, however.
With the girls as Generals, said my dad, they actually worked together, and followed the battle plans and ensured everyone else was aware of orders and strategies and outcomes. The entire class learned the battle – which was the point of the club.
‘If you made the boys the Generals, they would just run around with guns shooting each other and it would be chaos,’ said my dad.
He can be wise at times.
Why am I telling you this story?
A few weeks ago I became very tired. Tired of being the only female speaker at an event. Tired of seeing all male panel after panel at events. Tired of seeing all male founding teams and all male boards. I became tired of seeing all the tweets about the gender pay gap in Britain and the lack of female leaders and all the CEOs ‘named John’.
I became tired of the pushback.
- ‘There are NO female founders!’
- ‘The pay gap is because women take time off to have children!’
- What do you want us to do – WE TRIED! No other women were available to speak!’
- But we have diversity of thought!
I was tired of getting angry at the ‘shrug of shoulders’. Are we really all so powerless to change the way the world works? Or is the current power balance – where our business and cultural leaders are chosen from a tiny pool of the available and familiar – a balance that those in power are actively working to stay in place?
I decided to stop being angry and tired.
I have very little power – but I do have a voice and an audience. I decided to stop re-tweeting horrible stories. Stories of bias, of discrimination or even crimes – the #MeToo stories that I fear are doing nothing more than providing torture porn for those who eagerly devour the next tale of a glamorous woman who was once attacked by a monster.
I decided to stop promoting the misery – the numbers, the money, the gaps and the exclusions.
I decided to make all the Generals girls.
I watched Benedetta Arese Lucini, co-founder and CEO of Oval Money sit down for a fireside chat at Finovate Europe. I took a picture and wrote a Tweet. ‘Great to see a this female entrepreneur on stage at #FinovateEurope’. Then I deleted it. Instead I wrote: Benedetta Arese Lucini, co-founder and CEO of Oval Money at #FinovateEurope.
In my feed will be founders, leaders, thinkers, creators – and most of them will also be women.
As of April 26, 2018 I have 14,674 Twitter followers. If you are an entrepreneur, a founder, a leader, a thinker – and a woman – I will tweet the fuck out of you. I will amplify your message. I will promote your voice.
If you have ever looked at your event, your company, your organisation and thought – where are all the women? Look at my Twitter feed: @LizLum
All my Generals are women.