Happy International Women’s Day. Today at work, we are celebrating across the company. In the US, the industry group I work with, the Energy, Resources & Industrials industry group, is hosting a discussion with Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and founder of Ellevest. I wanted to post another way to celebrate International Women’s Day… mindfully.
I am looking forward to hearing her perspective because of this quote and its relationship to a discussion I had with my spouse some years ago about becoming Investment Savvy:
“Before we launched Ellevest Private Wealth Management, women used to tell me all the time how tired they were of supporting companies and institutions that didn’t reflect their values. But they felt like they didn’t have another choice. That’s where the idea started — but it didn’t end there. The research is compelling: The financial industry simply wasn’t built for women.”Sallie Krawcheck
And why would we expect it to be?
From the beginning of formal markets starting in 1531 in Antwerp, Belgium , women were excluded, if not outright banned, from participating in financial matters. I see this exclusion as a contradiction in society: in Jewish/Christian societies, the expectation is to revere women who provide for their families via trade (See משלי/Proverbs 31:16-24). I cannot speak for other societies. However, some simple Internet searches indicate similar sentiments from Pan-Asian and African cultures, with several distinct sociological groups being examples of near Matriarchal. (e.g., Nubia/Kushite, Sudan; Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea; Palawan, Philippines; Khasi, India; and the Mosuo, China)
So how did excluding women from working in financial markets come about? Our current understanding is that the answer originates from Greek and Roman influence on how Christians of the time interpreted Jewish and Christian literature. Analysis suggests civil and religious leaders of the time infused Pagan rituals and views of Women from Greek and Roman society into Christian interpretation of Hebrew scripture as the two groups of people determined how they might peaceably live together. This infusion then influenced Muslim cultures, Islam building on top of Christian and Jewish views of civil law. Then, we see an evolution of civil law reflecting elements of the doctrines that emerged first under the Protestant Reformation, the various Catholic-influenced inquiries such as the Spanish Inquisition, and then the influence of Puritanism, Separatists, and Quakers on British and Colonial law as they fled England into the New World.
These male-dominated world views of the roles of men and women then spilled over into how society functioned as a whole. Those roles are still espoused today and are subtle in their influence. Achieving an objective view and removing our experiential bias and worldview is elusive. In researching this post, I stumbled across coverage of unconscious bias in a Brides magazine article about Matriarchal Societies.
In the Brides magazine article, Australian anthropologist Shirley Lindenbaum pointed out that American anthropologist Annette Weiner observed  how renowned ethnologist Bronisław Malinowski had injected unconscious bias into his observations while researching the Trobriand society. She stated that he "was preoccupied with exclusively male-dominated politics and classic structures of power, he failed to pay attention to critical ways the Trobriand women played important roles in their society" .
So on this International Women’s Day, I encourage you to look around and introspect on these questions:
- How may unconscious bias be working within me?
- How might my unconscious bias be affecting how I view the world?
- Who could I turn to and ask to hold up a mirror so I can see what consciously I cannot see?
Then I encourage you to try an activity called an Empathy Walk. You do this by finding someone that may have a different perspective than you, preferably a Female colleague. (If you are Female, consider volunteering to be this person for someone else.) Then ask these questions in innocent curiosity:
- Can you tell me how you see unconscious bias working against Women in the workplace or society?
- Can you tell me of a time when you felt you were being biased against just because you were a woman? How did you determine that it was because you were a woman?
- Can you tell me of a time when you knew you were being biased against because you were a woman, and you were able to overcome it? What helped you get past the bias? What had to change for the other person to realize they were struggling with their biases? Were there structures in place that helped create that unconscious bias? If so, what were they?
- Is there something I can do to help remove those structures today?
 Knight, Dacy. “A Look at 5 Matriarchal Societies Throughout History.” Brides, February 18, 2021. https://www.brides.com/matriarchal-societies-throughout-history-5112024.  Lindenbaum, Shirley. “Women of Value, Men of Renown: New Perspectives in Trobrland Exchange. Annette B. Weiner.” American Ethnologist 4, no. 4 (1977): 799–801. https://doi.org/10.1525/ae.1977.4.4.02a00180.  Weiner, A.B. Women of Value, Men of Renown: New Perspectives in Trobriand Exchange. Texas Press Sourcebooks in Anthropology. University of Texas Press, 1976. https://Books.Google.com/Books?id=AdXtAAAAMAAJ.
Further Reading for the Curious:
Firth, R. William. “Bronisław Malinowski.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed March 8, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bronislaw-Malinowski. Smith, Nareissa. “Women’s Empowerment In African Societies, Before Christianity and Islam.” Atlanta Black Star, March 23, 2018. https://atlantablackstar.com/2018/03/23/womens-empowerment-big-deal-african-societies-christianity-islam/. Turner Garrison, Laura. “6 Modern Societies Where Women Rule.” Electronic Magazine. Mental Floss (blog), March 3, 2017. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/31274/6-modern-societies-where-women-literally-rule.
The information contained on this post is my opinion, and mine alone (with the occasional voice of friend). It does not represent the opinions of any clients or employers.