Guest post by CEO Lynne King Smith, first posted on her blog The Whole Business.
I’m fresh off one of the best hours or so I’ve spent in months. Maybe years. I want to believe I’m an advocate for women succeeding in their careers, business and life – but I don’t often get to see the energy of several hundred women in a room together expressing their successes, frustrations, hopes and dreams.
I was moderating at the Women’s Leadership Forum at PollstarLive in San Francisco with panel of superstars in the music industry:
Corrie Christopher Martin – Paradigm Music, Head of LA office
Jodi Goodman – President, Live Nation Northern CA
Julia Hartz – President / Co-Founder, Eventbrite
Laurie Jacoby – Senior VP, MSG Entertainment
Brandie Louck – Live Event Producer, Production Manager
Nadia Prescher – Founder, Madison House, Inc.
I was, quite frankly, in awe.
We had a couple of opportunities to chat via phone and an hour before the panel began, so I knew the years of experience and camaraderie was going to be powerful. My hope was that the candidness and openness would come across once we added microphones and an audience.
PollstarLive represents all the facets of the music and live event industry: Here you have promoters, agents, producers, and venues. Industries that by and large are run by men. Where the women often enter a room or conversation as the sole woman at the table. Where intimidation and strength and confidence are at least half of the game.
I simply wasn’t prepared for the hundreds of women in the audience – overwhelming indeed. And I did my best to tune in – seeing knowing nods, intense emotion and the same sense of awe I was feeling. Those who happened to be on stage shared experiences that were, while varied, similar in that we all understood.
I was one of those girls who preferred to play with boys. I avoided the all-women’s meetings thinking that if I wanted to play with the boys, I had to be one of the boys.
But the wisdom on the stage and in the room today affirmed what I now know to be true. Standing on one another’s shoulders, we are stronger. Whatever you are experiencing, there’s another woman who understands. Being a bitch isn’t always a bad thing. Being tough doesn’t mean yelling. We are our own worst enemy. Believe you can. Empathy and inclusion are signs of strength – not weakness.
I’m sometimes concerned that we’ve made so much progress – and indeed we have – that we stop the fight. But though our workforce is now more than 50% women – our leaders are not. Gender bias is still a dominate force in most every industry often keeping women pigeonholed into the same roles, dropped from promotions and paid less for the same work.
Look – we have a black president who got elected not once, but twice. And so, you might say, America has solved its racism problem! A black president! There are no more race barriers.
And yet, since 2008, we still see racism everywhere. Violence, struggles, marches. Black Lives Matter was not even a movement prior to our first black president. And it was born out of violence against blacks on the streets all across America.
So, we do have women in high places in our industry. Does that mean gender bias is gone? The roomful of women packing into a session about how to succeed in their industry would say not so.
I’m inspired because I believe the worst thing would be for young women to say – I don’t see it. I don’t feel it. I’m blessed to have opportunities in this field without bias. But the eyes, nods, cheers and intense interest today give me hope. I believe we’re at the start of the second women’s movement. Satisfied no longer to have a place at the table, women are ready to sit at the head of the table. To lead with empathy, strength and whatever the day calls for. Leaning in. And leaning on each other.
And to the handful of men in the room, thank you. Thank you for getting it. Seeing the best in everyone. And understanding there IS a fight. We’re not done yet.