Last week I gave a keynote talk at a brand new event, the Aether Summit in Chattanooga. A man who looked to be in his thirties approached me afterwards. He waited while other people asked questions and then said, “I don’t want to talk about business. I want to talk about her.” He pulled out his phone and showed me a photo of his four-year-old daughter. “I want to know how to raise her to be like you.”
It’s the single most flattering thing anyone said to me after a talk. I was truly speechless. I probed a little bit and learned that this dad was worried he and his wife were too risk adverse to give his daughter the right environment to thrive. But even with this insight, I struggled to advise this man, saying nothing useful. Letting him down kept me up much of the night, searching for better answers.
The next day, ideas in hand, I looked around the event for this concerned father, but he was not in attendance. So I am recording my thoughts here, in hopes of getting this to him, and maybe others.
My advice breaks down into easy, medium, hard levels of effort.
Easy Level of Effort
Read your daughter biographies and autobiographies of real-life women. Basically, I believe the aphorism: you can’t be it if you can’t see it. I have always credited the female protagonist books in my elementary school library with giving me the imagination to pursue dreams that were outside my family experience and societal norms. For young girls who are not yet reading, I can recommend Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. The Grommet video in that link will give you a flavor for the book. We no longer sell it (the author’s decision to just use Amazon, a male-led business, alas.) You can get it here. If you have sons, read these books to them too. This is just as important: girls need boys to see them as capable peers and that message has to be continually reinforced.
Medium Level of Effort
Surround your daughter with actual role models. Here are ways to do this:
- Get female doctors and dentists for your daughter.
- Buy products from women-owned companies. Tell your daughter about them, via their products and websites. Most companies now have a decent founder/inventor bio on their site.
- If you are an employer, make sure your team is 50/50 gender balanced. No excuses about pipeline. Just do it.
- Seek out the chance to work for a woman yourself, so you can firsthand experience a woman leader. For your daughter you can repeatedly mention a woman in a position of authority and normalize that ambition.
- If you work with any professional service providers for your household management, hire that female architect, accountant, lawyer, builder, tradesperson, photographer, designer, landscaper etc.
- Share TV shows or movies with strong female leads. The stats on female representation are appalling so this will be harder than it sounds.
- If you have a wife, support her career equally to your own: make the doctor appointments, buy the kid shoes and the birthday gifts, stay home with your daughter for vacation and sick days.
- Subscribe to the LZ Sunday Paper–a highly engaging and often entertaining weekly email that addresses professional and cultural issues related to women. It’s excellently curated by Lauren Zalaznick, a powerful media exec who is now part of the team restructuring the Weinstein organization. In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearing, I am pretty shocked at learning how precious little the “good guys” in my life know about the obstacles against women, including, but going well beyond, the threat of assault. This newsletter is the Cliff Notes painless version to get up to speed.
Hard Level of Effort
Pick a cause that supports the advancement of women. And do the work–not just the social media posts and marches. The longer I travel this Earth, the more I get discouraged by seeing women being left alone to advocate for career opportunities, equal representation in government/media/society, basic physical safety, and equal pay. Some high level thoughts:
- Fight sexual assault. Openly work on #MeToo initiatives and support structures for victims. Three out of five women have been assaulted. One out of four has been raped. Imagine all the compromised human potential behind those horrific numbers. Creating a world where this man’s daughter does not have to actively worry about being a target of violence–like I do on every business trip–is probably the best thing anyone can do to give little girls a fair shake at realizing their dreams. Statistically, daughters do not tell their fathers about these assaults. Anecdotally, I observe women mainly telling other women, and very, very few at that. But a man can confidently assume that he knows many victims of assault personally. Even in writing this post, I did not want to mention that I was really threatened and ran for my life during my last trip to Chattanooga. I did not want to put a black mark on that wonderful city! I did not want to offend my lovely hosts and the people working so hard to make it a spectacular place to live. But this really happened. Just last week. For the sake of your friends and family and daughter, believe victims. False reports are 2% of the total. Unreported assaults are the majority–because who in their right mind would want to go through their own version of Christine Blasey Ford’s horrific hell?
- Work to elect women to office. Put your contributions, fundraising event hosting, activism, lawn signs, bumper stickers, social media posts, and especially votes where you can make one of the biggest differences in your daughter’s life.
- Push for women on boards. If you are in a position to influence board make-up of an organization or company, use it. And do not just add one woman. Work for gender balance on your boards (as well as other forms of diversity, of course.)
- Give women access to capital. My closest seat to gender inequality has been in the world of venture capital. I have written here and here and here about my thoughts. If you are an investor, whether via your own retirement accounts, as an individual angel investor, or as a principal in any venture or corporate investment programs, invest in women. The returns are statistically superior for diverse leadership teams so it is your fiduciary responsibility.
- Defend reproductive rights. I loved this Tweet storm by Gabrielle Blair, above, Mormon mother of six, proposing ways to reduce the incidence of abortion. (I love it so much that I think you should ditch this post and just go over to the above link on her blog where she put the Tweet storm together in a single post.) This radical thinking was refreshing. Men need to fully show up for this issue, as they are 50% of any baby-making.
- Mentor women. In your professional role be actively open to fostering the career of a select number of women. I honestly don’t understand why women put so much emphasis on finding mentors, but they bring this need up to me all the time in my travels. Put in the time to help them carve a successful path. You should only do this for people with whom you have a natural rapport and whose aptitude and promise impress you. I.e. use the same filter as you would for mentoring a man. These relationships can be time-consuming so choose carefully.
- This might be the most important thing: talk about this stuff with boys and other men. Read the articles and learn the stats/odds against women. When I was pregnant with my third son a young colleague asked me whether I wanted a boy or girl. I responded that I thought that the role model pressure of having a daughter would be hard, so I would be more comfortable with a son. She wagged her finger at me and said, “You have it all wrong. The most important thing you can do for women like me is to raise fair men who are equally competent at household activities as they are at working collaboratively with women in the office. That’s the role model you should worry about–your being a strong woman who expects her sons to treat women as equals.” She rocked me to my core and I actually changed some of my parenting behavior because of that (I immediately started teaching them to cook and expected a lot more from them, chore-wise. When my third son was a toddler I deliberately put together a playgroup with just girls in it–being worried about our totally male household. These and a million other things were inspired by that talking-to by that young colleague.)
So, to the thoughtful dad of a cute little girl. I hope you see this. Your question touched me. And whether or not you ever see this, I expect you will be a wonderful father to this precious person. Because of your question and all that stood behind it. Thank you.