Becoming a Feminist.
When I was in high school in Texas, I remember thinking it was “unfair” that my buddy who had the same grades as me had a better shot at getting into certain schools because of affirmative action.
Years later, I sat beside a woman of color in a class about Entrepreneurship in Education at HBS taught by a phenomenal professor, Stacey Childress. Unlike most of our classes, there were teachers from the Ed School, policy folks from the Kennedy School and others from across the University in the class. And we didn’t shy away from tough issues like race and affirmative action.
I remember the feeling of my mind being changed on this issue — the passionate brilliant classmate to my right had lived through the reality of being a woman and being black, and she expressed in a way I can’t replicate the structural residue of the reality of our nation’s dark history of race discrimination. How there are legacy issues that must be addressed. How I had won the lottery of birth by being white (sure, I’m Jewish, but come on, that doesn’t compare, even in Texas).
It is sad to admit that it took me twenty something years to understand just why it is that these policies are necessary, but fortunately, I learned.
I feel similarly about feminism today. Sure, I’ve always been supportive of my younger sister and her career (she is a total rockstar), and I’ve spoken about gender equality and stuff like most people. But I never really understood.
My wife is one of the most impressive human beings I’ve met. She runs her company after having worked at McKinsey and Goldman and GE and attending Harvard Business School and Harvard undergrad. She is beautiful enough for a superficial guy like me to fawn after her, but perhaps most impressively her heart is pure gold. She’s one of the most genuinely kind hearted and high integrity people I’ve ever met. She’s an incredible leader. Excellent with managing people. Sharp as a negotiator. And she can get shit done. I tell her I’m the luckiest guy in the planet for being with her, and I’m not exaggerating. It is an empirically measurable fact.
And yet, now that we have the gift of our beautiful daughter, Autumn, my wife, like most success women in our society, is often in a tough spot when it comes to making things work. She is an amazing and caring mother, but she feels like no matter how much time she spends with Autumn it isn’t enough. At many professional events, they don’t make it possible to do the things she physically needs to do to help care for our daughter. When we talk about Autumn, I can glowingly claim being a proud father without concern, but she has to worry about people judging her level of commitment because of it.
One of my friends who is a female founder CEO recently told me about how certain “VC’s” openly asked her about whether she was going to have any children during her fundraising round.
I wouldn’t have believed her if I hadn’t been living through the constant challenges that my wife faces second hand.
This is unacceptable. We can do better.
I’m lucky to have been working at a company that was supportive of paternity leave. And I’m blessed to be in a position where I can stay home with my daughter when I need to.
But the truth is most companies and most people don’t make it possible for dads to be supportive.
Most people I know take less than one week of paternity leave.
Others seem to frown on the idea like somehow it is the woman’s job to take care of our kids.
This kind of idiotic backwards thinking is at the root of the pressure that limits too many women from pursuing and realizing their potential.
These biases are real. And they are a problem.
Many of you are probably thinking “of course… are you just now realizing this?”
The truth is: yes.
While I’ve claimed to be a “feminist” for sometime. I never really understood it before.
But as I walk around our hotel room holding my daughter, I can understand how important this issue is in a way that I never could before.
And I want to do what I can to change things before she’s old enough to be impacted by these broken old ways of thinking.
Thankfully this conversation is happening. Whether through “lean in”, the many newspaper articles, and even the recent trial. People are openly discussing the challenges women face in the workplace more and more.
But let’s not kid ourselves.
The current system is not working.
This is not good enough.
And things need to change.
But the first step towards progress is recognizing things for how they are and how that should be.
I guess now, I’m finally becoming a “feminist”.