One of the most well-run and informative meetings I went to last year was the HBA conference in San Francisco. The Healthcare Businesswomen Association is a class act.
What impressed me was the juggling act done to show the strong side of women in a mostly male dominated industry, as well as the feminine side that we, as women, need to maintain for our own sanity.
The women who represented the major pharmaceutical and biotech companies were key players, with long resumes down to the newbies just starting out. There was a sense of “we’re all in it together”, a desire to mentor and an equal desire to learn from the “elders’.
At one point, I stood on the side watching the buffet lunch line take shape and loved the musical sounds of people connecting with each other. The male manager of the hotel happened to stop next to me and we had a brief conversation. I was curious, so I asked what was it like to be surrounded by 800 women? His answer was telling. He said there was something different than many past meetings he had witnessed. He was not sure he could name the difference. I urged him to give it a shot.
“Well, for one thing” he began tentatively, “these women seem to really like each other”. He stopped to analyze his statement. I prodded with “How can you tell?” and he continued, almost in a stream of consciousness, “not sure….I always see women as one upping each other…..looking at what they are wearing and talking about that or where they got the dress or shoes….these women…..they seem focused on wanting to make a difference ….I don’t mean to listen in, yet can’t help hearing them…..they are talking about not just healthcare in general…..they are really talking about how to make their work settings better for everyone…. I even stopped in yesterday morning and there was session about how to develop trust at work…. They were in small groups and they were really working the issue, not just giving it lip service….I thought about it last night, women are really making a difference in the workplace and somehow, I just saw the power of what they, you, all can bring to the table from a deeper perspective.”
He stopped, embarrassed and excused himself to check on the wait staff. I saw him later and he waved, still embarrassed by the amount of self disclosure. He made sure not to get too near, for I might ask another open-ended question that would get him going again.
I thought about this male perspective in a women’s conference. There were a few men in attendance, certainly no more than a dozen at most, and I hoped they had a similar experience. We have come a long way and we certainly are on the road for bringing trust into the work setting as well as compassion and a sense of camaraderie. As women, we excel at relationships and mentoring and we can be partners to help our male colleagues pay attention to and benefit from our natural abilities.