...copyright Elena Yatzeck, 2010-2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

In Search of Shine Theory, or You Can't Take the Sky From Me

What can we all do, in the IT industry, to ensure that women enter the field and rise to the highest level within it?  So far, most advice has been directed to women themselves, in the form of "here is what you do."
  • Sheryl Sandberg recommends "leaning in," advice which was already obsolete in 2011, when
  • Catalyst's 20-year longitudinal study showed that "leaning in" doesn't work for most women, because many female leaners-in get accused of being pushy people who can't play well with others.
My ThoughtWorks colleague Magdalena Frankiewicz has recommended a great book on this topic, Williams and Dempsey's What Works for Women at Work.  This book is very pragmatic, and I like it a lot.  You must read it!  I discouraged, however, that one of today's key approaches to getting ahead involves the individual woman fine-tuning her gender presentation, becoming more assertive if she is super soft-spoken (Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office), and being quieter if she is perceived as pushy ("The Secret of Success is Femininity").  To succeed in IT, you need to be Supergirl, it appears, disguised as Lois Lane.  Some of us can't squeeze into either costume.

Enter "Shine Theory," cutting directly to the heart of the Gordian knot.
You can buy this at https://www.etsy.com/listing/81853619/shiny-firefly-cross-stitch
My sister, Tanya Yatzeck, introduced me to Shine Theory after Ann Friedman's Keynote at the St. Louis Business Journal’s Women’s Conference earlier this year.  It's simple, Friedman explained, "I don't shine if you don't shine."  If we all want more diversity on our teams, and a lot of us do, (because diverse teams are more profitable in addition to it being the Right Thing to Do), then we need to make the amplification of our women colleagues a group project, not an individual responsibility.  

At the St. Louis presentation, Friedman divided this group endeavour into three steps, which should be followed by everyone:
1. Kiss down, not up: Build relationships with those at your career level and up-and-comers, not just those above you. 
2. Ask and offer: Feel comfortable to ask for help, as well as to offer it. 
3. Share the wealth: Recommend friends and colleagues for jobs and opportunities.
I love this!  Everyone can help someone else shine, in a "goes around, comes around" kind of way. Plus it turns out that it works!  The internet is full of "shine theory" articles that talk about how women in the Obama administration made a pact with each other to amplify each other in meetings. When one woman made a point, another woman would echo what she said, pointing out that it was that other woman's idea, so a man couldn't claim it as his idea later in the meeting.  By Obama's second term, there were way more women in senior positions.

The policy can be applied in every meeting, by the moderator, or by meeting attendees, and it can be applied to everyone, male, female, gender-non-conforming, physically or mentally disabled, or just shy.  Just keep a lookout for the voices that are not being heard, or the voices that are being interrupted, and constantly ask yourself what is going on with those interruptions.  Look at who is promoted and who is not promoted, and make sure to give a boost to your friends who seem to be getting overlooked.  Be an ally.

Applying Shine Theory makes you "Shiny," and that is especially awesome if you are a fan of the doomed 1-season series, Firefly, and the follow-on movie, Serenity.
From http://www.wetpaint.com/cast-firefly-serenitys-crew-then-566923/
So I started my google search, to track down more Ann Friedman wisdom.  Where is her book?  I wondered.  This is where I encountered the Dark Side of Shine Theory (to bring in a term from a competing space franchise).

It turns out Shine Theory is not a theory.  It is a phrase.  A phrase!  (Check wikipedia!)  And in its original context, the phrase was about "don't be that woman who envies other women."  Shine Theory had its debut in 2013 in New York Magazine, and in its original form, it was a directive to individual women not to be catty:
When we hate on women who we perceive to be more “together” than we are, we’re really just expressing the negative feelings we have about our own careers, or bodies, or relationships.
Don't be that woman, Friedman says.  Be the kind of woman who will search out and befriend powerful, successful, other women.

Stop to think about that.  Is that good advice?  No, it is not good advice.  (At least) two reasons:
  1. Maybe you dislike that other successful woman because she is a complete creep, psychopath, and bully.  Call it the Smurfette Principle or Queen Bee Syndrome, or simply call it the No Assholes Rule.  It is a fact that some women are especially vicious to other women, especially in a society where companies are rewarded for being "diverse" once they have one woman board member, or one C-level executive.  There may be a special place in hell for women who don't help other women, as posited by Madeline Albright, and if there is, I would add, I bet it is pretty overcrowded.  Just because someone presents as a woman doesn't mean she is your friend.  It is always going to be tricky to lean UP and get a woman in a power position to be your best friend.  Don't be silly.  Follow normal rules of interaction.  As Ann Friedman herself says, "kiss down, not up."
  2. Why shouldn't women compete anyway?  There is no reason to accept the concept that women should not be competitive.  Women are going to have conflicts.  Two or more women may compete with one or more men for a plum assignment, and all but one of those people won't get it.  Feelings may be hurt.  So what?  The issue is not "you should not be that kind of woman."  The issue is that we all need to band together to lift each other up, and pull ourselves out of the morass together, where there aren't bullying issues in the way.
I need Ann Friedman to write a book and have a theory, and for people to stop just talking about "Shine Theory" in a way that makes the reader stop once they read that May 2013 article.  And while we're at it, I need all of us to stop talking about "men keeping women down."  Seriously, we are all keeping women down, and people of color, and people with mental and physical disabilities, and old people, and queer people, and people with different religions than our own.  Each of us builds ourselves up by saying "well, at least I'm NORMAL" ten times a day.  Stop it.  Look around you, lend a helping hand, support people who play fair with you, and be an ally, when an ally is needed.

If you are a woman, empirically, you will be most likely to be promoted if your achievements are known by those who can promote you.  Empirically, you can remain demure-seeming if the extreme bragging is done by proxies, not by yourself.  Every time you brag about your colleague to their potential future boss, you make all of us shine.  So do that.  Build diversity, don't contribute to putting people into a small box (probably wearing Spanx).

Be shiny.  Reach down, not up.  Ask for and accept help.  Share the wealth.