Thursday, April 24, 2014

Would you be intimidated being alone in a crowded room?

Imagine you are a successful business professional. You are invited to many events after work to network, create useful contacts and learn about new areas impacting your work. You go to such an event one evening and, as you walk into the room, you quickly scan to see if there is anyone there like you. And event, after event, you are the only one of your kind in the room. There may be 100 people in the room and you are still the only one.


This is the experience of being a female CEO, or I suspect an African American CEO of either gender, in Silicon Valley.

This week I went to an evening event run by one of the top executive recruiting firms on Developing Business in China. I walked into the cocktail reception, scanned the room, and saw no women, not even a waitress. As I sat down for dinner at a table of white men (all charming) the dinner guest to my left asked me "Don't you feel intimidated coming to a dinner like this since you are the only woman?" He noticed, and projected, and predicted intimidation. I just laughed and said "it's the norm for me, so no" - and proceeded to have a delightful evening.

A few months ago I went to a PE (private equity) reception for CEOs to meet the partners and each other (they were developing deal flow). Again I walked into the room of about 100 people and saw no women whatsoever, not even a waitress. Sometimes there will be a young woman on the desk handing out badges (most firms have good looking young women on the front desk), but rarely in the room with the players. That particular evening was a "Monday Night Football" cocktail party - huge screens and speakers, lots of alcohol, and so I worked the room and briskly left. Not my scene.

If you are a white male, can you imagine how you would feel if almost every time you went to a professional event for executives, investors and CEOs (of which you are one) you were the only man in the room. Or the only Caucasian in the room in a room of African Americans. How would you feel? Remember, you're not there for social reasons. You're there to be respected, engaged, treated as a professional equal. Could you?

How many times would you have to be put in that situation for you to become blind to it?

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