I'm the author of "How We Make Stuff Now" and the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch innovative products from small businesses.

For Fathers of Daughters

My niece’s husband and their daughter, yukking it up on Halloween last year.

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.

Gabrielle Blair and family

  • 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.

 

29 Responses to “For Fathers of Daughters”

  1. Barbara Berman

    Jules, what a wonderful, powerful, heartfelt message you send. Thank you for taking the time and thought to bring it to me (and the world). I try and teach my grandsons to help anyone, women included. I believe that a little old-fashioned gestures like opening the door for old, female grandma helps bring out their “other side”. It is amazing to me what children don’t learn at home or in school.
    Barbara Berman (Drew’s mom Nancy’s friend

    Reply
  2. Carla

    What a thoughtful and spot on list. Found you via Lindsey Mead’s blog and this warms my heart so much. It can seem like a daunting task but really it’s about actions like these. Things we can all do.

    Reply
  3. Cindy Frenkel

    Jules,

    I cannot get over this piece. You are remarkable and I absolutely love your advice. Sending a hug with huge admiration!

    Cindy

    Reply
  4. Samantha

    I read this article when you first published and absolutely loved it. Since then I have mentioned and brought up to many friends and colleagues. Many of your points continue to stir around in my head and will stay with me on my future parental journey. Thank you for writing this!

    Reply
  5. Caryn Cullinan

    Wow- as a leader trying to find her way in corporate America, your post inspiring and important for girls! Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    • julespieri

      It was my pleasure Caryn. It just flowed easily…though maybe staying up half the night was when the content really got assembled. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Erik Bullen

    Thanks for this post, Jules. I came across it from Brad Feld’s post subsequent to the Authors and Innovators event.

    As a father of a six-year-old girl, I think about this every day and strive to do many of the things on your list (so does my wide, of course), but there is more that I can do.

    I’ll add that in terms of raising her, Reshma Saujani’s (Girls Who Code) ideas about raising girls to be brave and to take risks instead of being perfect has had a strong influence on us.

    Reply
  7. Joseph

    The most important thing the father of your sons can do for women is to be help raise fair men who are equally competent and share in doing household activities as they are at working collaboratively with women in the office while still holding the door open and giving up their seat, is to be the example.

    Reply
  8. Bradford Cottel

    Jules, I recently posted this to my Facebook page (I also found out about it from Brad Feld’s blog). Mainly inspired by my wife Susie Herrick (shameless plug: author of [Aphrodite Emerges](https://www.amazon.com/Aphrodite-Emerges-Journey-Changed-Fathers/dp/099887020X) and also of Your Story Is Your Power w/Elle Luna), who often tells this great story of [Nichelle Nichols and MLK, Jr.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hKKkGhEDoU) as well as of [Whoopi Goldberg](https://medium.com/@krispartello/whoopi-goldberg-momma-theres-a-black-lady-on-television-and-she-ain-t-no-maid-a3f3c94610eb) as an example of the power that role models really have on girls and young women. Thanks for your inspiring advice.

    Reply
  9. Emil Borel

    For your advice on how to raise daughters, be very careful about what you give since some parents may follow it.

    Congrats on your three children and business successes.

    If your advice on raising girls works, TERRIFIC.

    At one time I believed essentially all of that and more intended to help my wife. And I did attempt, I DID very much walk the talk.

    Results: Cost me a big fortune, e.g., a nice slice of FedEx. Ruined my career. Wasted in hopeless struggle 2+ decades of my life. Nearly killed me. Cost us our children. Cost us our financial security. Cost us our marriage. Cost us her LIFE — it KILLED her.

    Looking back, the effort was DUMB, dumb de dumb dumb.

    Basically the traditional, common attitudes, stereotypes, romantic comedy movies, jokes, locker room humor were all much closer to being correct — were basically correct.

    In short, nearly no women can do what you advise. If you can, as I said, TERRIFIC.

    And I wish you were correct. There are some big advantages n your being correct. But, for the Ivory soap 99 44/100% of women, you are very badly, profoundly, nearly fatally, badly WRONG.

    In simple terms, Darwin disagrees with you. No doubt there were women like you, but they mostly are not our ancestors, or anyone’s ancestors.

    Why: Because, net, the traditional views have strong reproductive advantage, and what you advise will nearly always result in disaster in nearly everything in life, especially reproduction. I believed as you do, and then I learned better by paying full tuition.

    There is a lot of evidence that women are too emotional. E.g., there is a claim that, across cultures, continents, and countries, actual anxiety disease is four times more common in women than in men. The emotions lead to irrationality, to incapacitate her for and lead to disaster in the practical world, to willingness to be secondary, submissive, subordinate, subservient to a strong man, to be cared for, and, presto, bingo, reproductive advantage.

    I thought that brilliant intelligence would let sparkling, powerful rationality rule. I was wrong. In females, emotions frequently overwhelm rationality.

    She was brilliant. I don’t know how smart you are, but you are lucky you were never in a course with her because there is a strong record that your best hope would have been second in the class. Heck she was first in a class of 300 students, and whe was just auditing! I’ve done a lot in high end academics, and in many ways she was the smartest person I ever knew. Yes, she was Valedictorian, Summa Cum Laude, PBK, Woodrow Wilson, NSF, and Ph,.D. But her emotions took over and incapacitated her for anything but getting pregnant. Since her emotions had incapacitated her for anything practical, I didn’t want children with such a mother, and we had no kids. She lamented “This equality stuff got me in a whole lot of trouble.”. Always for her with me, “equality” would have been a big step down. Her emotions got her worse and worse until she killed herself.

    She COULD have been a young mother and, then, without this equality nonsense, been fairly good at it. When she was 20 she was convinced I was getting her pregnant; I knew better; but she was 100% ready — and ALL of that was JUST emotions.

    Men, that’s what they are designed for: At 13, fall in love with a strong man; at 14 get pregnant; at 15 have her first child; have another child each 2 years or so until she has about 6; then let her concentrate on motherhood until the youngest child is at least 25; then concentrate on being a grand mother. Yes, she will need some help, but that’s what you and the grand parents are for. Going back tens of thousands of years, THAT’S JUST what she is designed for. And she is REALLY good at it. In the 20th century we wanted the girls to graduate from high school and have their first child at 18 — not so good. Now the advice is for her to wait longer, and that and the other advice and distractions and the result is a birth rate so low we are going extinct, literally, rapidly. Darwin will have a solution.

    Men, if she even hints at any of this ‘equality’ stuff, drop her like a hot rock, turn, leave, and never see her ever again.

    Reply
  10. julespieri

    Emil,
    I am leaving your comments here so that people who think my advice is no longer needed in 2019. It’s just unusual for someone to go public with your views and for that I am grateful.

    Reply

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