Why are we still talking about women?

A response to today’s FastCo article

Hi, my name is Carly. If you asked me to describe myself, I might tell you that I’m a multifaceted designer who has worked in the toy industry as well as the craft beer industry. If you asked how others might describe me, perhaps they would say that I’m cheery and positive, hard working and tenacious. On a good day they may mention that I like to push the people around me to do their best work and think about things differently. But I hope that no one, when asked to describe me, would simply say, ‘oh, she’s a woman.’

Yes, I am a woman. That is part of my identity and certainly contributes to why I do things the way I do. But no, the primary reason I did or didn’t talk during the meeting is not because I’m female. It is, maybe, because I didn’t get quite enough sleep or I’m wondering if I can fit in a run before dinner or because I simply don’t have an opinion about the topic at hand.

Please don’t misunderstand my point. Countless women have worked tirelessly to demand a place in meetings and a voice in decision making. And I would not—could not—be where I am without their efforts. But those efforts were necessary because of an inherent imbalance in the way the world worked. Men were given the opportunity to pursue careers in business, law, finance, technology, and design (along with a slew of other options) while women were expected to do housework and care for children. If anyone had the wherewithal to ask why, the resounding answer was some variation of, ‘because it’s their place.’

It took a long time to realize that answer didn’t make sense. Women in the United States have had the right to vote for less than 100 years. But what progress we’ve made in that short time: women in the US can now largely pursue any field or occupation that interests them.

And still, seemingly, there are years to go before the playing field will be truly level. It feels important to get more women into STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, & math) jobs and CEO positions. Our challenge now, though, is to once again ask why. In an era rife with opportunity, is a person’s gender grounds enough for a leg up (or down) in the pursuit of a leadership role?

What is the best method to insure that the most qualified candidate gets the position, whether that is a position with the PTA or with the EPA?

I would argue that it is time to focus more on abject qualifications and stop writing (and reading, and supporting) gender-specific business ‘insights.’ Let’s challenge ourselves to see candidates and coworkers as the professionals their careers have lead them to be, with all the potential that is inherent in each of us.