Fathers are the key to getting women into the boardroom and into technology-driven industries.
I’m watching my husband and daughter play Lego Batman2 (DC Superheroes), and it’s hit me that Dads are the key to getting women into the C-suite and into engineering and technology industries.
Dads teach little girls a whole new range of skills and abilities that prepare them for life. Research by The Fathering Project has shown that children (including daughters) benefit from play time with Dads – they develop confidence and communication skills that immunize them against some of life’s tougher experiences, like school and office bullies.
When Dad is involved in his princess’s life, she gets to ask what he finds so interesting about the rugby or the cricket. Dad’s enthusiasm is naturally contagious to a child, and the result will be a little girl who sees sport as enjoyable, as well as having the vital life skill of being able to follow the score in cricket, rugby and tennis.
Dads also teach girls how much fun it can be to not be ladylike and genteel. They introduce them to the world of tinkering, pulling something apart just to see how it works, and slobbing in front of the TV, shouting at the ref of their favourite sport or playing their favourite console game.
I have a hypothesis that women who are comfortable in male dominated industries had a strong father figure while they were growing up; someone who taught them to be comfortable with traditionally masculine disciplines. My dad let me tinker about in the farm workshop, he let me borrow his motorbike for jaunts around the farm and he was the one that taught me how to BBQ like a daemon. The skills that Mum taught me are invaluable (I had no idea at the time how important etiquette can be in networking dinners!), but the skills and talents that put me at home in an industry that trades in rubbish (literally) are the ones that I learned from Dad.
Most of the ladies I know aren’t comfortable with power tools, would rather go shopping than watch the rugby and wouldn’t be seen dead without their makeup. Too many of them will also try to stop Dad from teaching his little girl how to do the things he enjoys (tinkering with computers and cars, deleting the operating software to install something else, and chasing a ball around a field).
When we let Dads share their passions, we allow girls to discover the joy of fixing their own toys, creating their own mini-programmes, and exploring a world that they’re not afraid of. We learn through play, and fathers are much better at playing games than mothers. The games they play will be tougher, they’ll challenge her more, and they’re teaching her to stand up for herself and to push back when she needs to. I’d like to think that this is what’ll build her confidence to stand up for her opinion in front of peers and bosses when it’s important.
Right now I’m watching a dad teach his daughter teamwork while they both work together to bash bits of digital lego to pieces, exclaiming things like “Phoooweee, that’s kewl!” It’s great to watch a 6-year old with the confidence to teach her Dad how to mimic her newly learned ability. Dads are better than Mums at getting kids ready for the roughness of the real world. They don’t do cotton wool, and an involved Dad will make sure his kids are robust enough to handle the rough and tumble that the real world throws our way.
Lets’ face it, any woman with aspirations on the C-suite needs to have a strongly developed sense of confidence in dealing with anything that life throws her way. So where does that take me? I’d like to see men take a more active role in their daughter’s lives. We seem to have created a perfect storm… historically parents were forced to stay together due to society’s expectations, and the roles of men and women were stereotypically set with men having little to no involvement in their daughter’s lives. As we’ve moved away from the stereotypes and Dads have been free to enjoy fatherhood, we’ve landed in a society where many children are being raised in single-parent families, with Dad usually the absent or part-time parent.
I suspect the success of the next generation of young women will be split between those who find success more easily because they had Dads who were actively involved in their lives, and those who didn’t. There’s no way that I would encourage a Mum to stay with an abusive or dangerous Dad, but I would like to live in a society where men can have a conversation with a young woman or a little girl without fear.
Ladies, let Dad be Dad – he’s doing your daughter a world of good! In the world of grown-ups, I’d like to see men mentoring and coaching women. There’s a strong movement for women to reach out to each other in supportive networks like Lean In. I think it’s a great idea, but I think they’re only part of the solution to getting women into boardrooms. My most effective mentors have been men – they simply don’t agree that I have problems that I think I have and they approach things from a refreshingly different perspective.
There’s power in looking at a situation from a different perspective; it can help you realise that the problem is easy to solve as long as you’re prepared to let go of your hang-ups.
I recently came across an article where Disney’s infatuation with picture perfect princesses was attacked for the message it was sending little girls. The reaction I got from my guineapig male audience of one (I excel at really robust research!!) was apathetic to say the least – he thought that the fuss was a bit of a storm in a tea cup and that women worry too much about whether looks are important or not. That’s the influence that men as mentors can offer women, and the influence that Dads offer little girls. Half of the things we see as big, ugly monsters to be conquered if we’re to be successful are simply constructs of the mind. Another (and possibly more important) influence that dads have on little girls is that the secret to beating the Joker is more about how you throw yourself into the game than whether you’re dressed with full makeup on.