The World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship: The Ladies Room

The title was Applied Sciences, Applied Women.  Oh boy, a Woman’s session.  I hesitated. There were other breakout sessions.  Should I go to one of them instead? I’ve been avoiding most of the women’s business groups in Boston for years; should I take a smaller bite of the same apple?

My experience with the Women’s session at conferences is mixed.  I tend to think of them as each conference’s apology.  Sorry the keynote is a man.  Sorry the main session panelists are all men. Sorry the lunch speaker is male.  This isn’t always the case but as a conference organizer, I know that it can be difficult to get women as speakers or featured presenters.  And, if you aren’t Aware, you quickly end up a guy-heavy panel.

And the topic is usually a litany of opportunities missed and a checklist of topics that varies little:

  • Inequities
  • Flex time
  • Stats – percentage of women entering programs and a much smaller percentage of women reaching the program’s end goals – degrees or titles.
  • Examples of programs to help women
  • Commentary from women who “made it” despite the road blocks.

Are you a traitor to the cause if, as a woman you choose another session when a Woman’s session is offered?   If you remain removed and skeptical about the value of the Women’s Networking Group?  If you don’t apply for the Woman Entrepreneur Awards and if you visit Boston Harbor Angels or Hub Angels rather than Golden Seeds when it comes time to fund your company? Perhaps.

You’ve heard the Man’s Group argument – if there was an organization that focused on men the same way so many women’s group focus on women, there would be mass protests and demonstrations.

I went.  And heard some of the same shocking stats, the wonderful speakers and accomplished women.  (I want to be Bentley’s Gloria Cordez Larson when I grow up.) Some of the usual generalizations – “Women get promoted based on performance.  Men get promoted based on potential.”  Women in the C-suite are a predictor of success in the ranks — the mentor role is important but just her presence is key.

And I heard the one thing I dreaded and feared hearing…that while I was avoiding and passing by the Women’s session, the numbers got worse.  The progress that had been made has retreated.  So, Successful Woman, you may not be planning to attend the Woman’s Session at the next conference you go to, but consider going.  Your presence will make all the difference in the world to someone else.