The Woman Effect: TEDx MassAveWomen Video & The Research Behind It

On December 3, 2012 I had the honor of speaking to a group of powerful women in Washington DC at a TEDx event, TEDxMassAveWomen. I’m very excited because I’ve long wanted to distill down what InPower Women’s about, into a simple but powerful video, and this gave me that chance (video below). Since so much of what we do here is research-based, however, there’s no way I can include all the appropriate research references in my talk, so I’ve decided to post them here, with a short synopsis of the argument of my talk. Also, posting it here means I didn’t have to turn my talk into a blathering of statistics and the information is still available!

Invite Dana to speak at your next event.

The Stories of The Tragic Queen and the Underdog Princess

In my research and conversations with women and other women’s advocates, I’ve struggled with whether the feminist narrative is ready to accept a new heroine as its main character. I named this new heroine the Underdog Princess, and if last summer’s blockbuster movies are to be believed, she wields a bow and arrow with great skill. I would like to suggest that she be considered as a replacement for the Tragic Queen we’ve known and loved for so long. Let me tell you their stories to bring you into this conversation.

The Story of the Tragic Queen starts out quite promising…

In the end, the Tragic Queen concludes that she can’t have it all after all, and accepts her lot in life, with a tinge of resentment and sadness.

The Story of the Underdog Princess also starts out quite promising…

  • She earns over 58% of the baccalaureate degrees, since 2010, over half the masters and PhD’s in the United States.
  • She manages to get past barriers that stopped the queen and makes it into very high leadership positions in our society about 15% of the time, on average.
  • The Underdog Princess excels for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that our Underdog Princess is very capable and the people around her know it. Even though she’s subject to cultural stereotypes that lead both men and women to view male characteristics as leader’s characteristics,
  • She doesn’t just demonstrate her success in big companies either,
    • If she jumps ship to start her own business, she’ll be joining fastest growing segment of small businesses, women-owned businesses. Often she’s quite content underearning her male entrepreneurial counterparts because she’s “having it all” and balancing work and family by working on her own.
    • If she’s running a startup, her company is 4% more likely to be successful, to go public or be sold for a profit.
  • When she makes it into the top leadership tier, with other women at a ratio of about 3-in-10 (30%) – she and the other women she’s working with have an exponentially positive effect – well beyond the percentage of their participation. In these situations she is part of what I call The Woman Effect (also knows as the 30% solution). While this finding doesn’t show causation, the correlation is so consistently found – across sector, geography and research organization – that we know there is some magic that happens when leadership cultures include 30%+ female members.
  • The Underdog Princess also has a different relationship with the men in her life and is often happier as a result.

In the end, The Underdog Princess is more likely to have it all by redefining “it all”.

Why we can’t really choose…

These statistics don’t really tell us whether we’re ready for the Underdog Princess to take on heroine status yet, because they aren’t really describing two different women, they’re telling conflicting stories about all women. The conflicting data is all “true” but makes it harder to tell the true story of the modern woman.

In real life,

  • The Tragic Queen runs more socially responsible and successful businesses and the Underdog Princess confronts the no-win leadership stereotype in herself and her colleagues.
  • They both encounter the glass ceiling in their culture and in themselves.
  • They both deal with too-frequent sexual assault.
  • They both struggle to have all of what they believe is important in their lives.

To the best of my ability to tell, the primary difference between the Tragic Queen and the Underdog Princess in real life is in what they choose to believe to be true for themselves, in their own lives. Their personal choices to believe they are powerful gives them power in the world or holds them tragically powerless.

So it’s appropriate I’m not ready to end this story and decide who the new heroine is, because it’s not my story, it’s yours.

It’s Up To You

Since how this story progresses is really up to you, I’d like to give you one last data point to help you live the story of the modern woman most powerfully.

In 2010 a group of MIT and Carnegie Mellon researchers randomly selected about 700 men and women from the ages of 18-60. They put them in random groups and gave them various problems to solve. They were hoping to find out what made groups of people smarter. Would a group of high IQ types out think some lower IQ types? Would cohesive teams or motivated teams out smart the rest? The answer surprised them. The primary factor that predicted a group’s intelligence was how many women were on that team. They concluded that women naturally brought more social sensitivity to the group interaction. This social sensitivity ensured that a greater diversity of  ideas got out on the table, more people were heard, more brains participated more problems got solved. This is the secret sauce of The Woman Effect and this study shows it’s not just women on corporate boards who can ignite it, it shows up wherever women show up.

So the women’s ability to make their groups smarter wasn’t because they were smarter or more capable or tried harder – it was because they were there.

Here’s what I like most about this research.

  • There were some Underdog Princesses, but the statistics say there were more Tragic Queens.
  • All the women in this study were just like us, struggling with glass ceilings, cultural stereotypes and self-doubting voices telling them they’re not enough and not valuable. All these women are struggling to “have it all” just like you and me.
  • These flawed, regular women were able to make THE difference, just by showing up and participating.

What was true for them is true for you.

One of the biggest differences you can make isn’t one that can be learned, or earned or given. It’s in your bones and blood, wild and wonderful hormones and your double XX chromosome. You can’t not be it, and even if YOU don’t value it (which you should!), this research says that when you show up and participate, the world gets better anyway.

The only thing you can do to ensure you DON’T ignite The Woman Effect is to hide this gift inside you. If you DON’T show up – or you DON’T participate – if you don’t get a seat at the table or don’t speak up – then more problems don’t get solved and the world isn’t as good as it can be.

On behalf of a world that wants to get better, I have one request.

Please let all the other stories go. Don’t worry if you’re the Tragic Queen or the Underdog Princess. Let those stories go too, and as much of the self-doubt as you can – just let them go. Those stories not nearly as important as you are.

My request to you is that you stop hiding, show up and participate.

That’s the hidden key to your power.

Because when you come out of hiding, show up and participate, no matter what you bring with you and what statistics your living your life into….  you and I – and our children and all the people we want to “have it all” with… we will all be living in a better world.

Whatever you’re waiting for isn’t as important to the future of our world than you are. Stop hiding. Come out. Participate.

What ARE you waiting for?

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