When I was a little girl, my mother took me and my sister to visit a friend of hers. I remember the big house. I remember the little boy who lived there, the son of my mother’s friend. And I remember being utterly smitten… not by the boy, but by the elaborate electric train set he had in his living room. I was mesmerized as he showed me all the details of this miniature wonderland. The carefully painted landscapes and the tiny village people. The train sounds and the smoke. The intricate layout of the tracks and the huge collection of train cars. I was six years old, and it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.
On the drive home, I couldn’t stop talking about what I’d seen. I had fallen in love with an electric train, and I was bursting with excitement. I shared every amazing detail with my mother, and then I popped the question: “Please, mom, please? Can I have an electric train? A train just like that one?” I remember her swift reply—she barely even took her eyes off the road: “Lauren, no. Trains are for boys.”
I was crushed. I was angry. I saw two options: to wish I was a boy or to wish that I, a girl, could have trains.
How absurd it seems today that it didn’t seem possible to challenge the truth of toys being assigned by gender. Instead, I spent the next few years of my life wishing I could be a boy. I wanted the things boys could have, and I wanted to do the things boys could do. I spent my days wishing I could change me instead of working to change the world around me.
No wonder I became a passionate advocate of women’s rights! I don’t blame my mother; she was reflecting the world she knew; her gender bias was unconscious. But it is this unconscious bias—that we view women and men through different lenses—that I have resisted my entire life. (I’m still reeling from having to keep an ashtray on my desk “to make the salesmen comfortable” at a time when, as a woman, I wasn’t even allowed to smoke at my own desk!) My passion for equality has reached into every corner of my life, and particularly into my role as a financial advisor for women. Although decades have passed since I discovered electric trains (and despite the supposed progress that we women have made), I witness corrosive effects of unconscious gender bias everywhere. Last week, after the final Democratic debate, an otherwise enlighted woman friend criticized Elizabeth Warren for “flailing her arms” too much on the campaign trail. (Had she seen Bernie Sanders?) In a board meeting in January, a female board member was told she “could have been nicer” when she posed an important question. (The men on the board were anything but “nice” in their responses!) Last week, a female client asked my permission to ask a question—about her own money! (Note to every woman, everywhere: You don’t need anyone’s permission!)
There is evidence of unconscious gender bias in every aspect of our lives. The biases come from others and, more insidiously, from ourselves. I can offer examples and tell stories ad nauseam. So can you. But for 2020, I’m taking a completely different approach: I am taking concrete action to help drive real change.
Next week, I will participate in training for “conversation circles.” Hosted by Dimensional, one of my valued financial partners, the training is based on the book, The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair. In February, I was introduced to the concept, and I was blown away. At a very high level, the ”circle model” is an approach to leadership that intentionally includes everyone at the table—regardless of gender. (It comes as no surprise that the authors of the book are both women.) This approach to meeting, deciding, and considering next steps with a focus on collaboration is designed to build and sustain community. From a female perspective, it’s also a way to ensure women are heard, appreciated, and included. It’s the perfect format for women who tend to learn best through sharing, storytelling, and working together to build vision and solutions. I plan to infuse conversation circles into my life and my work in the year ahead and to continue the process for years to come.
I have always found that I do my best work as a financial advisor through co-creation and collaboration. My clients—both women and men—hire me not to be a source of information, but to serve them with insight and to provide a safe space where they can be inspired to discover and achieve their financial goals. By introducing conversation circles into this process, I hope to continue to battle unconscious bias (gender, racial, religious, you name it) and to strive for “collective individualism” by embracing each person’s experience and ideas to advance society as a whole.
Is it a lofty goal? Yes. But I’ve had my sights set on that train set for an awfully long time! For myself, for my daughter and granddaughters, for every one of my clients, and for the world we live in, now is the time to drive a whole new level of change. Sunday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, and this year’s slogan is “An equal world is an enabled world.” I am all-in on working to drive change in how we think, how we act, and how we take action toward equality. I hope you’ll join me! #IWD2020 #EachforEqual