Not Crying in my Chardonnay

Lots of ladies dive for the escape hatch when women’s gatherings get too plaintive.

One executive I spoke with for Stiletto Network recalled an episode at a National Venture Capital Association event about a decade ago; men and women were mingling amiably when an NVCA rep decided to corral some ladies into a separate room to confer on a report by the Athena Forum about the state of women in venture and private equity.

By Canyon Castator

By Canyon Castator

“The report showed that the number of women had dropped three-tenths of a point, and some woman shook her head and said in hushed tones, ‘This is terrible,’” the VC recounted. “We were just twitching in our seats. I stood up and said I appreciate the earnestness, but if there are a bunch of women with MBA’s making half a million a year while women in the garment industry are slaving away, well… I’m not crying in my chardonnay. Only 2.5% of VCs are women, and some of them made so much money in the bubble that they can retire. So I know the women who changed the number that much statistically.”

Her point? Sure, there are issues, but let’s get a little perspective. And, in the wake of the Ellen Pao scandal at Kleiner Perkins, Anne Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic dirge (“Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”), the debate over leaning in, and the carping over Marissa Mayer’s baby, she had some other thoughts:

“I wouldn’t mind rewinding the clock a few months, when we could just do the work and the topic on everyone’s mind wasn’t gender and work. Is that selfish of me? Anti-feminist? Is the dialogue always supposed to be kept alive, like a balloon ball on a concert floor? As if the collective consciousness says, ‘Watch out! It’s going to fall off the radar! Quick, somebody do something to get everyone talking about the inequities of work/life balance and the perils of being a woman at work again!’ I’m exhausted trying not to think about it and just do it.”

So what’s the answer? How to launch a constructive dialogue without being branded whiners, and without suffering gender fatigue? How much is too much?

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The Cleats Network

After more than two months of practice, members of Congress and members of the media — the “Bad News Babes” — faced off on Wednesday at the fifth annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game. It was my great pleasure to cover the event for both the Washington Post and for MSNBC’s “The Cycle.”

While their male counterparts remain divided along party lines — the annual Congressional Baseball Game, which includes almost all men, pits Republicans against Democrats — the softball team is a bipartisan effort.

This game is notorious for its trash-talking, but it’s fostering a spirit of civility in politics. Players say it has allowed them to develop strong personal ties that are reducing antagonism on Capitol Hill, easing gridlock, and slowly overturning the Old Boys’ Clubs of both politics and press.

Sound familiar? We call it the “Cleats Network” — and it is ridiculously fun.

Even better? These ladies raised $125,000 for the Young Survival Coalition, which tends to the unique needs of young women with breast cancer.

Caleb Shirt

Members Line Up


At Bat

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Hard Shells, Blue Suits

In Stiletto Network, one exec refers to “the hard shells, the blue suits,” while another recalls those “dorky silk ties” women used to wear. And in Chapter 1, I talk about trailblazers in the ‘80’s: “All wore Reeboks over nude hose, shoulder pads over thick skin. Life, they were told, was not a spectator sport.”

By Canyon Castator

By Canyon Castator

We all have a memory of THAT “power suit,” the one donned like armor to face the day. (And by “power suit” I do not mean the ill-advised, head-to-toe orange tweed number I wore at Goldman near the turn of the century – about which my former colleagues will remain mum and nod compliantly when I blame Y2K Fever).

I’ve always loved fashion. I relished prancing out the door in make-up and heels. Until, as a relatively junior employee, I started getting as much attention for my outfits as for my work. Arguably more. My clothes were always professional – never a “showcase of knockers and knees” – but in banking they stood out.

Really bad move on my part, but I was young….

These days I’m seeing a lot of sheaths and chic separates, as well as rockin’ kicks; they’re feminine, but not va-va-voom in a way that undermines anyone’s credibility or effectiveness. And still I had an interesting conversation recently with a friend who’s still banking. After more than 15 years on Wall Street, she decided to splurge on a few pairs of decadent-yet-office-appropriate shoes. She’d toiled in the trenches and deserved it – or so she thought.

“Who’s your new boyfriend?” one colleague inquired when she wore them to work, implying a Sugar-Daddy was bankrolling her purchases. “Someone doesn’t need a bonus,” another sniped.

Of course that’s a singular example, but the question remains: Can we as women appreciate fashion and spend time and money on clothes, yet still be taken seriously in the workplace?

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It used to be that we would get together and network, but we felt we shouldn’t let guys know because they might think we’re complaining about men. But now it’s the opposite. It’s gone from something we did in stealth to something we’re proud of. There’s an understanding that we’re not there bitching. We’re just trying to get stuff done for the companies.”

Theresia Gouw Ranzetta, General Partner at Accel Partners

Stiletto Network (Page 138)