Last week, an article by Pamela Ryckman in The New York Times caught my eye. In “The Risk-Taking Edge of West Coast Women,” Ryckman discusses the different spending strategies of successful women on the West and East Coasts. According to businesswoman Deborah Perry Piscione, West Coast women support each other more frequently through entrepreneurship, while those on the East Coast hold on to their money.
To remedy this, Perry Piscione and ally Janet Hanson organized a meeting between the East and the West. At the weekend conference, 50 self-made women from both coasts met to discuss how those on the East Coast might emulate the West, encouraging women to support each other with venture capital.
At times, I found Perry Piscione’s argument unconvincing. She first noted this regional difference after a move to Silicon Valley. I suspect that the high tech industry housed there would attract more venture capitalists than most other industries — which might explain the “lack” of female venture capitalists she notes in the East. Nonetheless, Perry Piscione raises interesting questions about the way women interact with one another in the business world, and how supporting one other can provide mutual benefits that exceed what we might achieve independently — or with men.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of women supporting women in my own work. I intern at an organization focused on women’s issues, so, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the employees are women. I was surprised to discover that when I mentioned this to friends, they often reacted negatively. “Aren’t they catty?” they’d ask. Or they’d say, “I’m not sure I could handle that.” Many of these friends are women.
In fact, my office environment is extremely supportive, more so than any office where I’ve worked previously. Employees interact more comfortably and communicate more openly. Some of this might have more to do with the nature of the work than the people doing it — working for a common cause results in a certain level of unity. Yet clearly, the environment is not the Mean Girls-style jungle of competition and pettiness that my friends expected. Rather, I’ve enjoyed my experience there immensely. Further, this atmosphere of support has enabled the organization to accomplish a great deal, more so than many balanced or male-dominated organizations.
Many women who succeed in the workplace may exhibit Type A personalities, or even outright competition with others. This does not make a women-filled work environment any less effective or pleasant than one staffed by men. Those who think otherwise seem to exhibit a particularly cartoonish view of women—or at least, one based on high school comedies. Where conflict does exist, many factors beyond gender come into play: power dynamics, personality clashes, or levels of job satisfaction. Simply blaming issues on gender serves as an excuse to avoid considering these deeper issues.
While I disagree with some of Perry Piscione’s analysis, I wholly support her goal: encouraging women to support one another in their careers. Clearly, many women already do this—for instance, the atmosphere I encountered in my office. Still, as women, we could benefit from supporting each other on a larger scale, and financially, when we can. Women profit from a healthy aversion to risk, but we should not let this blind us to new opportunities. These investments would provide significant returns, allowing us to form new kinds of partnerships and address new kind of needs. Projects created by female entrepreneurs could look very different—in a good way.
We are pleased to welcome Christina to the Fem2.0 blogging team! Christina currently interns for a nonprofit in Washington, DC. She graduated in June from the University of Chicago with a BA in History and Philosophy of Science. In her (very limited) free time, she tries to catch up on all of the reading and TV shows she missed in college. When not updating her pop culture lexicon, she enjoys exploring the less touristy parts of the city.