“Failure shouldn’t be a dirty word,” acclaimed journalist Jessica Bennett told a crowd on Wednesday (June 21) at Ellevate Network’s first-ever annual summit.
The event’s objective — to “mobilize the power of women” — sparked a whole lot of kickass convos between some of the brightest minds in business and diversity and inclusion, among them Bennett, who’s a contributing writer at The New York Times and the author of “Feminist Fight Club”; Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of digital investment platform Ellevest and chair of Ellevate Network; Wade Davis, a diversity and inclusion consultant and former NFL player; and Fairygodboss Co-Founder Romy Newman.
One of the key themes of the day was smashing the patriarchy that holds women and men back — and part of that process involves breaking down the stigma that comes with failure. “Women tend to avoid failure more than men,” Bennett explained, “but you have to take risks in order to succeed. Somewhere along the way we have to be able to face failure. Failure is not going to define you.”
Teaching failure for the purpose of success may sound like an oxymoron, but Bennett — whose book, in her own words, is an “office survival manual for a sexist workplace” — says it’s necessary if we want to break down the patriarchal system. In fact, she said recognizing the fact that women tend to internalize failure more than men do has helped her in her own life, and she suggests all women work on getting to a place where failure doesn’t seem quite so terrifying, but rather a necessary step in moving forward.
Wade Davis, who also emphasized the importance of accepting failure, said that we all — men, women, and young girls alike — should read as much as we can about other women who have not just succeeded but also failed. He spoke openly about his own efforts to smash the patriarchy and said that as a man, part of that process has involved owning his own struggles and even learning to say the word patriarchy. “It’s a system that’s actively trying to destroy women and destroy me,” he said, yet people so often shy away from using the word.
Davis offered some advice for men who might be struggling to overcome unconscious biases and sexism: “women cannot emasculate us,” he explained. “We can only emasculate ourselves — and until we learn that, we will never be able to be equal partners. This idea that ‘unless I’m being seen as a provider I’m not a real man’” is one that men are locating within themselves, Davis said.
Nellie Borrero, Senior Global Inclusion & Diversity Managing Director at Accenture, added one way that companies can confront patriarchy is to not only set abstract goals, but to set metrics around those goals.
“We have a leadership team [at Accenture] where there is no room to tolerate any behavior that we will not be proud of,” she explained, adding that Accenture first became a proponent of diversity and inclusion in the workplace years ago when it was “the nice thing to do. It then became the right thing to do — and then the business case evolved. The business case is clear that it’s going to help organizations get to a better place.” She specified that when leaders at the top put metrics and goals around this, that’s when real change and progress tends to occur.
And Accenture is not just talking the talk. They’re all about setting deliberate goals and metrics; they recently announced, for example, that they want half their workforce to be women by 2025. “That accountability piece right there is a game changer,” Borrero said. “It is everyone’s responsibility to create this inclusive culture.”
Fairygodboss Co-Founder Romy Newman suggested that there is some good news among all this talk of inequality. “Companies want to hire more women,” she explained, “either because they’re enlightened — like Accenture — or because of the drain of talent. If you’re a talented woman, you are a valuable commodity.”
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