OF FEARLESS GIRLS, IVANKA TRUMP, AND LEANING IN (OR NOT)

Thank you for stopping by!  Please don’t hesitate to contact me at thenopantslife@gmail.com. 

On International Women’s Day, the now-famous Fearless Girl statue was unveiled on Wall Street to a storm of social media snaps and accolades. She will stand her ground until March 2018.

Why a statue?  Why didn’t State Street Global Advisors, the investment fund that erected the Fearless Girl sculpture, pump that money into investing in women-owned businesses, advocating for flexible work policies, and other mechanisms which directly assist women in the professional world as opposed to creating more Instagram-worthy photo-ops.

After all, VC firms aren’t backing our grown-up fearless girls.

This is 2017 – four years after the Gospel of Sandberg first exhorted women to Lean In — but women-owned businesses still struggle to gain funding compared to their male-owned counterparts.  This is in spite of statistics which show that female-led businesses offer investors a robust return on investment.

How are our grown-up Fearless Girls doing? In February 2017, ten of the 25 companies selected by CNBC for their inaugural “Upstart 25” list had female founders.

There is a trend of by-women-for-women – more than one (but not all) of the female-founded companies on the list has a mission that is directed toward female advancement or empowerment. Let’s break some of these female-run disruptors down.

  • Dia & Co.: an online clothing retailer targeting plus-sized women.
  • Zume Pizza: a company disrupting the pizza delivery concept.
  • Nima: a company that created a portable device which tells if there is gluten in your food.
  • InHerSight: a Yelp-style website where female employees can anonymously rate past or present employers on several factors that matter to women, such as PTO and salary.
  • LOLA: an online subscription service-style organic feminine care products company.

A notable member of the list is Ellevest, the brainchild of Sallie Krawcheck, the former CFO for Citigroup and head of Merrill Lynch.  Ellevest, a digital investing platform designed for women, exhorts visitors to its home page to “invest like a woman”.  The website offers statistics such as “86% of Investment Advisors are Men, With an Average Age of 50+” and “Gender-Neutral Investment Fails Women.”

What does the Fearless Girl image do for female entrepreneurs – who still have a harder time finding funding than male entrepreneurs?

What does the Fearless Girl image – a four-foot tall prepubescent child with a ponytail – do to advance the cause of normalizing adult female ambition? She stands with her hands on her hips, pigtails akimbo, reminiscent a bit of Little Inez in Hairspray, or a young proprietress of a lemonade stand with Daddy’s watchful eye never far away.

Why couldn’t the statue feature an age peer to Sallie Krawchek – one of the most senior women on Wall Street – or, at least, someone a bit older than your average Thin Mint-slinging Girl Scout.

Because adult female ambition still makes us uncomfortable, even if we are women. McKinsey’s 2016 study on Women in the Workplace shows that women in corporate America fall behind early, and “continue to lose ground with every step.”   Whether it’s in negotiating for a promotion, finding a sponsor (as differentiated with a mentor), or asking and receiving informal feedback, women experience a diminished quality of interaction with senior leaders or influencers which could facilitate their professional upward movement.  This disparity is most acute for women of color. The study, which aggregated responses from 132 U.S. companies employing over a total of 4.6 million people, found that 40% of women are interested in C-Suite roles, compared to 56% of men.

Could this be because the path to the top is fraught with more roadblocks for females? Acceptable adult female ambition, it seems, is reserved for Goldilocks. You can’t be too assertive – especially in salary negotiations – or else you’re labeled “bossy”.  You also can’t be perceived as too accommodating.  You must be well-mannered, speak in carefully-modulated tones, and reveal little of your inner life or emotions: too much anger, sadness, passion, frustration, or joy and you run the risk of being taken much less seriously.

Women still must tailor their “ambition persona” in a way which is palatable to the men in the room, since most of the decision-makers will be male. There are no Fearless Girls running boardrooms. But who personifies adult female ambition in 2017 with an image that satisfies male executives?  Is it Krawchek, Oprah Winfrey, Sara Blakely, Tory Burch, J.K. Rowling, or any of the other women that Forbes named as 2016’s most powerful female entrepreneurs and influencers?  No.

The answer, I’m afraid, is Ivanka Trump.

Classically pretty, wealthy, poised, and – perhaps, most importantly – married with children, she exemplifies a certain brand of femme extraordinaire.  Much like Gillian Flynn’s cool girl, the Extraordinary Female exists as an aspirational fiction to cater to society’s male-approved ideas of female excellence, this time in the professional sector.

I don’t hate her ’cause she’s beautiful. The Forbes List contains beauties and fashion icons such as Gisele, Beyonce, and Sofia Vergara.  But Ms. Trump’s profile is so inscrutable and devoid of vulnerability or authenticity. It’s exhausting for any woman to maintain that facade in the workplace, where one – like in any relationship – must articulate their needs to be taken seriously.

Despite the fact that as recently as 2013 there was no maternity leave policy in place at Ms. Trump’s company, her Twitter feed self-describes her as an “advocate for the education & empowerment of women & girls.”  Ms. Trump’s Twitter account consists of Town-and-Country-esque family photos, hashtag platitudes, and the odd photo op with world leaders. It’s reminiscent of the Twitter feed of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge – a woman being groomed for a role as royal figurehead, not executive.  But, unlike the Duchess of Cambridge, Ms. Trump has an office in the West Wing and wields actual power.

Perhaps this is a wake-up call to ambitious women, a cohort I still consider myself a part of.  Society demands a brand of oft-contradictory perfection of its women – we must be the perfect wives (as society deems no woman perfect if she is single) and mothers. We cannot get sick, gain weight, or get ill – especially mentally ill – and, most importantly, we cannot get old, at least visibly. We must be the perfect mothers – not too laissez-faire, but not a tiger mom. In the workplace, we must toe the line, much like Goldilocks – we cannot be too much of anything, but we risk being not enough.

What happens to the Fearless Girl if she grows up to resemble nothing like the image below?

3C3CDB5100000578-4132500-Out_and_about_Ivanka_Trump_took_her_eldest_children_Arabella_and-m-3_1484755366066
Is this why we need the no-pants life more than ever? 

Thank you for stopping by!  Please don’t hesitate to contact me at thenopantslife@gmail.com. 

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