Men, Women, and the Definition of 'Family'

We need to change men’s options and choices.
— Anne-Marie Slaughter

This week saw the release of Anne-Marie Slaughter's new book, Unfinished Business. Fresh from reading her husband's article, Why I Put My Wife's Career First, in the Atlantic, I was eager to get a copy. Two nights ago I did - but first I saw Slaughter interviewed about the book by former New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn.

How do we start to change the box we still have family and women’s roles in?
— Christine Quinn

Christine quinn

I'd heard Slaughter speak before, both live and on the radio, so I knew she was good. And I loved having Quinn as the moderator. She asked questions we need to hear more often, such as why our society sees 'family' as the nuclear kind, and why a married, gay woman like Quinn is seen for what she lacks (children) rather than what she has. Quinn told us that during her campaign for mayor she was quizzed about why she didn't 'have a family.' She's from a big Irish-Catholic clan and said what I've often felt like saying: Actually, I do have one (they just haven't emerged from my own body). After the campaign was over some journalist suggested that now maybe she could get started on that family. Talk about being put in a box.

I'm glad she brought up that topic of how she's viewed as a non-mother, not just because it illustrates how easily women are still stereotyped. But also because women who either choose not to have children or can't have them often feel totally left out of the conversation on women and work - yet we too are very much part of the workforce.

Back to Slaughter, who kicked the conversation about straight women and high level careers into the stratosphere three years ago with her Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can't Have It All. Her premise is that we've become a society that wildly undervalues care - whether women or men are giving it.

"We as women have sexism ourselves," Slaughter pointed out. True. Plenty of women are just as sexist about men as men have traditionally been about us. We can be inflexible in how we see their roles, such is the power of the masculine stereotype. The latest Pew Social Trends survey on stay-at-home fathers showed just 8% of Americans thought kids were better off with a dad at home full-time (51% thought kids were better off with a mother at home full-time). The idea that mother is best is in all our heads, and that father is cut out for other things. Someone I know well has occasionally received heated praise - "You're such a good dad!" - for doing pretty basic, everyday stuff with his kid. A woman would never receive a similar comment, Slaughter noted. Women are expected to be nurturers. Men aren't.

She also reminded us that young girls are usually told that they can do anything - work, work and have kids, stay home with kids, whatever. But boys are still raised with the narrative that they must become a provider - their scope is much narrower. Slaughter says she and her husband are bringing up their two sons with the idea that they too can do anything they want - including become the lead parent.

I'm about a quarter of the way into the book and hope to have Slaughter and her husband as guests on The Broad Experience. And I hope Chris Quinn doesn't mind if I call her a real broad. That's a compliment.

Female Relationships at Work

We don’t know how to overtly compete like men do...We cut you out of an email maybe, or bad mouth you behind your back. And then that war gets very deep and goes on for a very long time.
— Kathi Elster
These women work for the U.N. so let's hope they genuinely get on (photo used with Creative Commons license)

These women work for the U.N. so let's hope they genuinely get on (photo used with Creative Commons license)

The first time I did a show about women's relationships at work I felt guilty. This wasn't a happy story I was doing, but a piece about how poisonous things can become among women in the workplace. I felt bad because the idea that women have it in for eachother, that they're 'catty' and mean, is generally accepted, and it harms women. Female women-haters have become a popular stereotype.

The problem is, many of us have experienced some version of this behavior in our own lives. Some people even quit jobs because they can't take it any more. So I'm talking about it again, with the hope we can bring some understanding to this kind of behavior - and change it.

I had a great conversation last week with Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley of K Squared Enterprises. They focus full-time on solving relationship issues at work. I just released a whole show about this today, but here are some quick points I picked up from our conversation.

  • Back when we lived in caves and men roamed around for food, women had to protect their offspring. The men competed and sometimes got killed doing it. It was our job to keep the next generation alive, and we befriended other women as part of this tactic. So we evolved not to compete openly like men, but covertly. This instinct lives on in us today.
  • Covert competition is responsible for a lot of less-than-appealing female behavior - in and out of work. But most of us are totally unaware of the extent to which we engage in it.
  • Women and men are harder on female bosses because we expect women to be nice. We don't necessarily expect that from men. So the next time you're inclined to label your boss a bitch, consider for a minute: if a man behaved like that would you feel the same way about him? Or would you just accept it?
  • Women tend to personalize business behavior - most men don't. So we're likelier than men to amp up the drama because we get upset and take it all personally.
  • Some studies suggest playing competitive sports sets women up for life in the office fast-lane. A lot of young girls play sports but many drop out as teenagers. If women were socialized to be more openly competitive, as men are, maybe some of this underhand competition would disappear, along with its harmful consequences.
  • Some senior women find it hard to be generous to their younger female colleagues because they faced such hardships on their own way up the ladder.
  • If you're a woman who's in a bad situation with a female boss, you could be piling on without realizing it. Take a step back, look at what's going on purely from a business perspective, and divorce yourself from the emotion. To hear about all this in more detail, tune into the latest show.

Everyone's a Coach

Photo by Carlos zgz

Ever since women and work became my main reporting beat I've begun to notice something: lots of self-employed professional women are coaches. Or at least they call themselves coaches. If I look at bios on Twitter I see the word 'coach' appear startlingly often. And the more time I spend there the more female coaches I see - and they all seem to work with women.

It seems pretty much anyone can hang out a shingle as a coach. The industry isn't regulated and coaches come in many forms - life coaches, career coaches, executive coaches (who, from what I can work out, tend to work with companies as well as individuals - but if you're a coach feel free to set me straight). I haven't tracked down much in the way of statistics yet, although this study claims the life coaching industry in the US is worth $1 billion a year. That's a lot of people looking for some big life changes, and paying for them too - and I would wager the majority are women. We know women tend to seek outside help for their problems more than men do.

I wonder if this apparent glut of coaches comes as part of the whole female empowerment movement. If it does, you could argue it's good - that more people want to help women discover what makes them tick and makes them happy both at work and in life. Or maybe it's fueled by women leaving corporate life after many years and starting career number two as a coach, eager to use their experience to help others.

I suppose I should admit that as a fully paid-up curmudgeon raised in Britain I can't help being a bit suspicious of the American attitude of endless positivity that fuels the whole self-improvement industry. I'm not anti self-improvement. I just want the real thing. How is someone who may be feeling vulnerable and desperate for advice meant to tell what constitutes solid, valuable help versus the more woo-woo stuff that's out there?

I'd love to hear from anyone who's either used a career or life coach or is one.

On being a female, independent podcaster


I'm a woman with a podcast so I was intrigued when my local public radio station, WNYC, invited me to an event put on specifically for my kind. The event, Werk It, took place last week at WNYC and I'm writing about it in case anyone else can benefit.

I couldn’t make the second day, which focused on pitching. As a podcaster who's not affiliated with a network I’m concentrating on the advice for indy podcasters that came on day one. The conference focused on women - because women don't podcast as much as men - but I think any independent podcaster can get something out of this post.

The panel on indies featured Crissle West of The Read, which totally took off in what I consider no time at all and now has 115,000 subscribers. Then there was Lauren Spohrer from Criminal, which also hit the bigtime quickly. It now has a million downloads a month. Hillary Frank began The Longest Shortest Time in her house. After her successful Kickstarter WNYC came calling, and she’s now there. Lynn Casper co-hosts Homoground, by and about queer musicians and music lovers, and Kaitlin Prest of The Heart (formerly Audiosmut) is now, like Criminal, with Radiotopia, which I think of as the golden kiss for podcasters (you get money and new listeners!)

What I'm about to say comes partly from Werk It and partly from my own experience as an independent podcaster.

Have Patience

Because you are going to need it. It’s wonderful that shows like The Read and Criminal leapt into the podcasting stratosphere within a year or two, but those are like the stories of your friend who met the love of her life on a first date, in college, wherever. The rest of us have to tough it out in the dating trenches for years before we meet the right person. I’m seriously hoping it doesn’t take me as long to grow this podcast as it did to find the right guy, but at least I’m practiced in the art of waiting.

Kaitlin Prest put it best when she said that “motivation is more important than time” when it comes to your podcast. Producing a regular podcast can feel relentless. I produce mine every two weeks, which may not sound like much. But on top of other, (paying) work, cutting the tape and writing the show is a lot. Too often I’m tweaking the writing the day before I head into my closet to track. Sometimes I have to skip a production cycle altogether because of work. You need to be motivated and excited to produce what you’re producing, to keep going when you don’t have many listeners. I was doing my show for 18 months before I had more than 1,000 listeners. That probably sounds crazy to some readers but I loved what I was doing, knew the topic (women and work) was important and needed, and had enough encouragement from existing listeners to continue. Now, new listeners tell me they go back and listen to all the old episodes.

As Hillary Frank said, “Take what people say about the numbers with a grain of salt. It’s about making the thing that’ll bring in the numbers.”

In my case it was some surprise press in major publications – and a mention of the show on Planet Money – that pushed up those numbers. Many podcasters have tales of their numbers rocketing when their show is featured on another podcast. It especially helps if that podcast is called This American Life

Build It and They Will Not Necessarily Come

We all like to think our creations will magically find their audience, but this isn’t true, at least initially. I suspect it may be even less true in a podcast world that seems to be exploding. Some podcasts will of course take off shortly after launch because they touch a collective nerve, but many podcasts are on niche topics and you must be prepared to do the work to let people know you exist. I was so excited to launch my show in 2012 I totally forgot about taking any steps to get on 'New and Noteworthy' in iTunes. (I was featured on iTunes almost three years later - not complaining.)

Until you start a podcast you have no idea how time-consuming marketing is. All you want to do is produce the content and make it as good as possible. Many creative types are not natural salespeople. God knows I’m not. I learned a lot on CUNY’s entrepreneurial journalism program, where I launched The Broad Experience. Still, like a lot of women I am not good at saying, ‘I’m great, come and listen to my show.’ I dislike boasting about my work. That said, I do it. You have to be prepared to silence that voice that tells you it’s unseemly to self-promote. Find your comfort zone and keep at it.

I’m not just referring to social media. Unless you have a huge following, those channels aren’t enough. You need to get in touch with publications or entities that are like-minded – that have more reach than you – and ask them to check out your show. Also, consider a Kickstarter, but wait till you have a base audience to support the campaign. I haven’t gone down this route but many podcasters have pulled off successful Kickstarters, most famously 99% Invisible. The most recent one I’m aware of is Jacki Lyden’s campaign for her podcast, The Seams. And the bigger you grow, the more you can build live events into your marketing efforts. This is working well for Criminal, The Read, and The Longest Shortest Time.

I'm not saying word of mouth doesn't work. It does. Many of my listeners have come to me that way. But it's usually not enough to build you an audience of tens of thousands of listeners. And let's face it, most of us want that.

Getting Sponsors

I love the story Hillary Frank told at Werk It and in previous interviews about how she landed sponsors for her show. This happened when she was still independent. She approached sponsors when she was planning her Kickstarter and picked companies she actually felt had helped her as a new mom. She called, left a message for the marketing manager, and asked if they would provide matching grants for her various Kickstarter goals. None of them had done anything like this before, and each said yes.

I’ve done something similar with The Broad Experience but I wasn’t as clever as Hillary. Last year I approached a few companies I felt were trying to do something positive for their female workforce – or at least wanted to be seen to be doing something positive. These are big companies we’ve all heard of, and each of the three said no to sponsorship. But then I approached the Financial Times, which I’ve been reading for years, and they said yes. They have a good women in business page and I knew they wanted to increase their female readership. I should add this relationship, which we termed a partnership (part of the deal was that I interviewed one of their journalists for each show), got off the ground when I had far fewer than 10,000 listeners. I got a lot more than the CPM rate for the three shows I did with the FT. If I were to sign up with a sponsor using the CPM rate model right now, I’d get $250 per sponsor per show.

You can get more than this often-discussed rate if you sell the sponsor on the value of your audience, which in my case is educated, smart, curious, ambitious and busy (and mostly female). These days I am approaching companies whose products I use that I feel have the same mission I do – to empower women in the true sense of the word – and I’ve had some success.

The key is to have a niche and find sponsors that gravitate to your people. These may be smaller companies with a scrappier attitude than Procter and Gamble.

All this sales(wo)manship is time-consuming and as a result I don't do it as often as I should. Rather I go through phases of doing it and phases of letting it slide. I am always disappointed that I don’t have enough time to truly focus on my show. But the pleasure The Broad Experience has brought me is unlike anything else I’ve experienced at work. I'm building a real community online. I get candid, heartfelt emails from listeners of both sexes telling me the show has actually changed they way they think and act. They've given me ideas for stories and listeners have been wonderful guests on the show. I could never have achieved any of this if I hadn’t started my own podcast.

So if you have something to say, say it. Just be prepared to werk it too.