How Many Women Are Enough? Nine.

Posted July 18, 2017 By Sara Conzemius
Our awesome, growing team!

You may have seen that ILLUME is hiring.  We are in fact in a phase of pretty rapid growth, adding 5 new staff in the last few months with a few hires yet to come. It has been an exciting time for us, watching our team grow and expand, soaking in the benefits of new talent and new energy into the company.

There is one thing that is bothering me though. Throughout this process, I have frequently heard– sometimes in jest and sometimes in earnest–from colleagues and partner companies  “Are you going to hire any men?”

On a personal level, this question takes me aback. First, because this comment seems to overlook the incredible men at ILLUME, who are integral to our team.  But it is truly disheartening because an equitable work environment is so deeply personal and critical to the mission of ILLUME.  It is something that motivated the creation of ILLUME. It is something we talk about, it is also something we work at.

Based on a lifetime of experience, as well as numerous studies, it feels as though there is– perhaps even subconsciously– a disbelief that a female led team can really go the distance.  While I have pushed this thought aside in the past, hoping I was wrong in this perception, a recent story that came out of my son’s soccer club brought me back to this thought again.

A little girl cutting her hair like her hero Abby Wambach should not cause an uproar

My son EJ plays for the Madison 56ers Soccer Club.  The club is one of the most competitive in the state, possibly the region.  Recently a story came out about one of the teams in the club, the U11 girls (for of you unfamiliar with soccer this would be 10 to 11-year-old girls). The news was not about their play or their record, which was amazing, but instead, at its core, it was about whether or not girls can really be that good. For context, a number of the young women on this team have very short haircuts. As a result, the team has been openly questioned about the gender of the players on the team. They have experienced coaches and parents going so far as to demand birth certificates under the pretense that the team was cheating by sneaking boys onto an all girls team. While this is shocking at the youth soccer level, this is a reoccurring theme in women’s sports.  From Stella Walsh to Ewa Klubokwosky to Duntee Chad to the brutal public shaming of Castor Semenya, talented women have been repeatedly forced to undergo invasive gender scrutiny because of their excellence.

The brilliant Maryam Mirzakhani passed away this month at the age of 40.

Similarly, in questioning the genders of 10 and 11-year-old youth soccer players,  there is an embedded assumption that a team of all girls cannot be that good. Their level of play must be enhanced because they have boys on it. It is a manifestation of the old ‘girls are not as good as boys’ mindset. So every time the comment about the number of men or women on our team is made I cannot help but hear an echo of that trope.

This message is particularly salient as we reflect on the passing of the brilliant Maryam Mirzakhani this month. Dr. Mirzakhani is the only women ever to win the so-called “Nobel Peace Prize of Mathematics”, the Fields Medal. Early in her life, she was pushed away from mathematics. In fact, some teachers deemed her sub-par. It wasn’t until she received mentorship from a strong female role model that she really began to flourish.  Even to this day, science and research are seen as innately masculine, despite all evidence to the contrary. This stigma deeply impacts the industry we work in which is why we created the #ilooklike campaign to try to address this as well continue to build up a community with events like  Women in Energy.  While pushing boundaries and creating solidarity is all well and good, the truth is, they are the means, not the end.  The true victory is when it is a non-issue.

When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bater Ginsberg was asked “So how many women will be enough for the Supreme Court” she batted away the absurd question, responding “When there are nine”.  Knee jerk reactions to this response may be claims of “anti-man” or “reverse sexism”, but I believe RGB did something more profound with this response. I believe her answer implies that if there were nine women, it would indicate that we stopped obsessively counting people by their gender and let the talent speak for itself.

True equality is better for both genders. Women’s rights are human rights.  True equality allows all people greater freedom to be their individual self. As a mother of young men, I deeply and profoundly understand the pressures put on boys in our society and daily work towards building them up in an environment of equality.  And, as a business owner, I can’t ignore compelling research that shows working environments that have greater gender equality increase performance. Equality, it turns out, is good for the bottom line.

So let’s clear this up once and for all.  We hire the best candidate for the job period. ILLUME’s success comes first and foremost, we will hire the person who can bring us that. In fact, we have several jobs open and I welcome everyone and all of you to apply. We strive to create a space that welcomes, empowers, and values all people, regardless of gender, orientation, race, ethnicity, nation of origin, age, religion, and ability status.