Much of Clay Shirky’s recent rant about women rang true to me. However, it took me much of the day, including talking with my friend Val Liberty to figure out what felt off about his rant. Over a whole day of dog walking, chatting over coffee and monopoly with the kids, we spent about 5 minutes talking about Clay’s post, but our talk colored my thinking about it. We covered gender issues, success, humility, and diversity, along with tech talk and business plans.
I know there are many paths to success. I routinely meet and do business with successful people who value integrity and honest communication. Peldi Guilizzoni, founder and CEO of Balsamiq, has recently modeled how to become a huge success while being a genuinely nice guy (and perhaps partly because of it). I know many other folks who have taken similar paths to success, though I don’t know anyone else who has documented it as thoroughly.
You don’t need to be an arrogant jerk to be confident. It is not lying to state what you believe you can do, instead of merely what you have done in the past. Clay Shirky clearly states the issue in the middle of his rant:
…people who don’t raise their hands don’t get called on, and people who raise their hands timidly get called on less. Some of this is because assertive people get noticed more easily, but some of it is because raising your hand is itself a high-cost signal that you are willing to risk public failure in order to try something.
However, he follows that by saying that it is a false hope “to imagine that women could be forceful and self-confident without being arrogant or jerky.” I disagree. Sure we have to risk being perceived as arrogant jerks (or some less pretty name). Perception is seldom reality, and the reality we live rarely matches that of our male peers. We have to put up with being criticized as emotional when our colleagues are admired for their passion. Nevertheless, we share the world and we need to figure this out. We have to work together with our non-sexist peers to change what is acceptable… both by changing what people are used to seeing and hearing from women AND by modeling other ways to become successful.