Sunday, March 23, 2014

Gravitas

I met two young women this month that took my breath away. 


Amelia Greenhall and Shanley Kane schlepped down the peninsula to meet for lunch after they had republished one of my blog pieces about women CEO's on their magazine, Model View Culture http://modelviewculture.com/about . I arrived at Joanie's in Palo Alto, smug, ready to be the estrogen-depleted-aged-sage, prepared to be the experienced crone-with-cahones, who had survived the sexism and misogyny of the  '70's, 80's, '90's & '00's and lived to tell the professional tale.  My "Queen of France" voice was warmed up to pontificate about my experience...oh, the wisdom I would impart...the pearls of philosophy and humor I would leave them with.........and 90 seconds in I discovered that I was outclassed, out-shone and out-thunk at every turn.  These girls were serious about this stuff....and not likely to be impressed with the lame-humor-facile-observations which are my raison d'ĂȘtre. 

First, they are full grown adults who were born about the time I learned to drop the F-bomb....(and although I was a late entrant to the game of obscenity, I had apparently not fully comprehended that my vocabulary enlarged to include that word about half my lifetime ago.)  So, while “young” they are grown-ups….not really looking for a teacher.


Second, these young women have about 6 degrees between them, each with both technology (yes, real technology, one has a EE) and liberal arts....and an MA in Public Health thrown in for good measure. As they went through their short-but-impressive verbal resumes, they casually mentioned Vanderbilt, Carnegie-Mellon and the University of Chicago.  So, even if they were looking for some sort of teacher/mentor…they have standards that I could never live up to.

After finishing a serious commitment to higher Ed, they each started careers in Silicon Valley, succeeded in their endeavors, bounced their beautiful craniums against the glass ceiling a couple of times, and then did something pretty wonderful.  They said, "Screw this!" and started their own company. A technology driven media company about technology, media, culture and the human experience in 2014. 

These girls are scary smart.  They are also thoughtful, articulate, ambitious, creative and honest.  They are part of the top 1% of intellect and capability.  And as I sat there listening to them, laughing with them, admiring them, wishing they were my daughters, I had to wonder…..What the f*ck is wrong with Silicon Valley?  How did these two remarkable women get pushed out of corporate America so early?  Has there really been so little change to the unthinking misogyny I encountered in the 1980’s?
I would be ashamed, and I would expect to be fired if I let talent of this caliber slip away from my company.  But some HR wonk like me did let them slip away.  And I worry I have cavalierly let young woman slip away….especially when they were daunted by the obstacles and obtuseness of a world that claims to only value break-through-thinking, but gives you demerits for breasts attached to brains.
So, I sat there and realized that I have let my position in life allow me to become complacent about the plight of young women in the workplace.  At my age and position in the world, I do not encounter the same kind of sexism I used to deal with every day…partly because I am really old, and there are no longer any hormonal “tensions” with my colleagues….and my professional status (achieved via tenacity over merit, trust me) demands a bit of respect.  Do I still find sexist behaviors? Sure I do…sometimes men ignore or talk over me (interestingly it is most often my beloved former Sun Microsystems colleagues who subject me to this rude practice).  But at this point in life I can tease them, threaten to kick their butts around the parking lot and shock them out of ignoring me.  I have tools available to me at 60 that a girl in her 20’s just cannot access.  
In the end the only tools these girls have available to them is their astounding intellects and a pen.  In this day and age we call it “technology driven media” but let’s be clear, it is smaller than a penis, but still mightier than the sword.


So, I am rooting for Model View Culture (they had to explain the name to me...a riff on some programming protocol...see, smart cookies), and not just because they had the good taste to use my words.  And not just because it is founded by two young women.  No, I root for MVC because, as I have said before, I am in love with smart, young entrepreneurs...and Amelia Greenhall and Shanley Kane are all of that, indeed.  And Silicon Valley better watch out, ‘cause these girls have brains and focus and rigor….and they also have the pen in their hand, now…..

So, I am rooting for Model View Culture (they had to explain the name to me...a riff on some programming protocol...see, smart cookies), and not just because they had the good taste to use my words.  And not just because it is founded by two young women.  No, I root for MVC because, as I have said before, I am in love with smart, young entrepreneurs...and Amelia Greenhall and Shanley Kane are all of that, indeed.  And Silicon Valley better watch out, ‘cause these girls have brains and focus and rigor….and they also have the pen in their hand, now…..

The gravitas of my age and experience apparently also has brought blindness to the ongoing frustrations of the women who have followed me into the workforce.  It is easy for me to think, "what are you whining about...I was once told that I earned plenty for 'a mom'".   But that attitude from me has made me stupid about what young woman still face every day...even in the ultimate meritocracy that is Silicon Valley.

As these two shockingly talented women recounted the frustrations of their high-tech experience (from constant concern about how to dress for work without either denying who they are or inviting unwanted attention…to despair over watching less capable male colleagues be embraced and promoted….to anger over the lack of female support systems), I felt my heart break.  How had I become so arrogant?  How had I not noticed that so little had changed?  How am I going to fix this?