Let’s talk about women in business.

As a little bit of background, I grew up with an older brother who was *almost* a year older than me. All the kids in my neighborhood were boys, and I often wore jeans and t-shirts handed down from my father’s cousins’ four boys… to my brother… and then to me. At the risk of dating myself, I grew up playing with Legos, Matchbox cars, Tinkertoys, and I played cops & robbers and football just like all the other kids. To say that I was a tomboy would be a bit of an understatement.

But even then, I clearly remember my favorite sweatshirt from 6th grade which proudly stated, “The best man for the job is a woman.”

I did see double-standards in movies and through others’ stories even though I always personally felt supported and included.  I remember my mother telling me that I needed to marry a guy with a good job because my favorite food was shrimp, and me telling my mother… umm, I will have my own good job, thank you very much.  And then she would back peddle and remember that, oh yes, she had taught me that I could grow up and do anything I put my mind to.

Even in high school and college, I gravitated to hanging out with the boys.  Even though I did start to have more female friends, I always tended to be just “one of the guys.”  I swore with the best of them and beat everyone at Poker at my friend’s bachelor party (at which I was the only woman in attendance).

Needless to say, I was surprised and baffled when I first entered the business world.  I guess I was naive, but I pretty much expected things to be the same.  They weren’t, and I’m sad to say, they still aren’t.

I worked at one of the Big Six firms in Denver in the late 90s.  I remember people holding doors for me which was bizarre (but not unwelcome because it was both polite and well-intended).  That wasn’t the problem.  It was more of the way that only the guys were invited to lunch, golf, or out for drinks after a late night of working.  It was the way the office was overrun with male partners and how few women were able to successfully model balancing motherhood and work because the culture didn’t support them properly, so they had to move on before making it to the top.  Stupid boys’ club.

Today I’m seeing a resurgence of feminism, and it’s no longer a dirty word.

I’m not entirely sure where it began, but I really remember it starting to kick into gear when Lean In first came out several years ago.  Women started standing up and being noticed.  They were finding their voices and speaking out.  Emma Watson gave an amazing speech at the United Nations.  Women started to believe they deserved to be heard, myself included.

More and more women every day are supporting other women by realizing that when they empower others, it helps all of us (shout-out to power leader, Melanie Power, for her excellent article, “Let the Poppies Grow Tall.”).  #ifshecanican

I think that men and women alike are beginning to recognize and embrace our changing world.  Virtual work arrangements make work-life integration more attainable.  More men are entering the world of stay-at-homeness.  As the balance of work at home evens out, it makes it more possible for the balance of work (and opportunities) at work to even out.

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

-Margaret Thatcher

I’m also finding that instead of having to be more “guy-like” to fit into a man’s world, people are starting to recognize the unique strengths that women naturally bring to the table.

So yes, I feel like things are changing.

And yet, I think we still have quite a way to go.  Twenty years later, and I still see “stupid boys’ club” actions on a regular basis.  And it’s completely unintentional on the part of the people doing them, and they are mortified when I call them out on it.  But I don’t take it personally.  I realize it’s an inadvertent reaction to a world that was built and perpetuated long before they got here.

But it also doesn’t mean it has to, or should, stay that way.

I still see panels of experts and recognized thought leaders comprised almost exclusively of men, but the audience is 70% women.  Every time we go through a round of interviewing, only about 10% of the applicants are male.  How can there be so many women in accounting and yet so few women leaders?  It’s flat-out ridiculous, in my opinion.

So you’ll see me later this week raising my hand at the Women in Business Breakfast at Xerocon in San Francisco.  You’ll see Scott and me building a business that supports the lives of all of our team members, regardless of sex.

And you’ll probably see me unapologetically continuing to kick up dust, particularly in the direction of members of the Stupid Boys’ Club.

Lean In, Part II