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Damned If You Do And Damned If You Do Not

Looking Backward Before A Forward Look

As we approach SAP TechEd Madrid 2011, I realize that I never posted a number of thoughts brewing in my head that summarize some of what I experienced in the event we held in SAP TechEd Las Vegas that was sponsored by Women in Technology @ SAP and called: Embracing Inclusion – Driving Innovation.

But First: A few historical quotes

Eleanor Roosevelt was a women many of the present generation have little knowledge of.  While some might see her views as archaic, (and she was a contemporary of my own grandmother and I myself am a grandmother), I still find inspiration and meaning in the way she conducted her life. Her impact on the role of women, not only in the US, but also in the world, is quite remarkable, and she is considered one of the most noteworthy women of the 20th century for her humanitarian work, her civic work, both in her home country and abroad.

I’ve quoted some of her most famous public pronouncements as I found that they had relevance to the topic of inclusion as well as to the particular topic of women’s rights.  And I suddenly felt that she might have had a bit of a twinkle in her eye had she been present in our very culturally diverse event where she would have discovered that many of the men in the audience of our inclusion event, weren’t really “feeling the inclusion”.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“Too often the great decisions are originated and given form in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression”
Eleanor Roosevelt


Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t

So this quote, attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, really begins: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

Might this stand as an apt summary of the responses to the panel discussion that was the first part of the evening event called “Embracing Inclusion – Driving Innovation” held last month during SAP Teched Las Vegas?

Some of the panelists might think so.   And some of the audience might think so too.

Despite the courage we all attribute to Matthias Steiner for posting what he calls “About ‘Embracing Inclusion to Drive Innovation’” of this special evening event where he describes “feeling excluded from the inclusion event” (especially, as he notes, during the panel discussion), I am compelled to provide some alternative views of what might have transpired there to a number of the participants.  Because, as research literature substantiates, the discomfort we all might share in listening to women speak of their accomplishments (women included), is a predictable outcome of a discomfort many of us have when accomplished women express confidence in their own abilities .   (Why Women Don’t Like the Word Mastery – An interview with Harvard’s Beverly Slade).

Slade states:

“I’ve found the word “mastery” a little too loaded for women. It implies domination, being at the top of the pyramid. “Mastery” comes from the word “master,” which is a state or condition of being a controller or a ruler, and that generally doesn’t speak to women’s experience. I don’t think this is the main reason that women don’t like to describe their abilities in terms of mastery. I think what’s really happening is that in the expression of competence or excellence there are many social consequences that arise for women that don’t arise for men. Women are socialized to believe that “tooting their own horn” is dangerous, so they learn to keep their competencies to themselves. They also may find that other people are threatened by their expression of their ability and will want to avoid them, will see them as being “full of themselves,” or will even perceive that when they speak about their positive achievements they are lying, fabricating something that is beyond who they are and what they can do.” 

Yes, I know you might say, “they (the panelists) broke the rules that were established when the evening was launched”.

“Leaving your title at the door” does sound antithetical to talking about your accomplishments, but how indeed does one establish credentials in the relatively short space of an hour’s panel time?  And how do we change this paradigm where women (in particular) do not have comfort talking about their competencies? 

One of our “lessons learned” from the event, is that we need to deliver these accomplishments in a form that is more palatable, memorable and communicative: namely through our personal stories.

Well, we shall have a second opportunity, to test that topic and gauge responses from audience and panel alike when Dr. Patti Fletcher and a panel of European men and women discuss the topic of talent management, collaboration in an inclusive environment, and yes, broach the topic of minority voices in technology innovation.   With an event that embraces inclusion, I believe we have all the elements and the demography (smart men and women as audience, paticipants, and panel) to generate some lively discussion and more hopefully suggestions for actionable outcomes, in the ensuing Design Thinking Workshop.

More details of that workshop past and present in an upcoming post.

Looking forward to seeing you in Madrid and hearing if we accomplished our inclusion goals.

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  • Hello Marilyn

    Interesting statements and thoughts.

    I'm looking forward to the event. I signed up for this one immediately as I already heard/read about the previous editions.

    Kind regards


    • And I am looking forward to your attendance.  You represent for me (by what I see of you in the community) unique thinking, youthful exhuberance and an openess that belies your years.  Age is inclusion as well.  While Eleanor Roosevelt and I might be of a "different" generation, it is heartening to see a bridge between cultures, ages, genders met when people sit, diaglouge and workshop and collaborate.  That will be the real success of the evening.  Glad you will help make that happen
    • And looking forward to your attendance as you represent for me unique thinking, youthful exhuberance, and a mature sense of expertise (from what I know of you thus far in the community and your presence there).  These are topics for the event to bridge: disparity in age, gender, culture. See you in Madrid.
  • "Good things take time!" Thanks for squeezing out the time to share your thoughs with us!

    There's soo much to reply, yet with SAP TechEd and SAPPHIRE NOW around the bend I'm required to keep it short and just comment on one thing you wrote: "...the discomfort we all might share in listening to women speak of their accomplishments..."

    Hm, for me... I always feel a discomfort when people (regardless of gender!) emphasize on (past) accomplishments, especially in conversations or disucssions. Let your arguments speak for yourself and not your title or your accomplishments!

    Soo looking forward to next Wednesday - it will be a great #EIDI event again! See you there...

    • But do you feel discomfort with sharing experiences or listening to the experiences that others have had? Perhaps we should substitute the word accomplishments for the word experiences.  Sharing experiences are one of the most basic, primal and effective ways we have of establishing connections, which in turn foster a healthy collaboration environment.  When you share experience, you actually can establish a sense of your competencies.  I know you are averse to bragging, Matthias, as am I, and also you seem quite modest about your own many talents (and are not apt to talk about them and so uncomfortable to think of someone touting theirs). But it is experience and of course actions (when there is more time to experience the actions of another) that help provide the context for evaluating, acknowledging, and appreciating skills that human beings possess or have acquired.  I would not care to visit a doctor who has neither established credentials for me nor has demonstrated experience and skill. And a measure of compassion and good listening is helpful as well in the mix.  Let's see what the next panel shall provide, shall we?
      • Sometimes there is a difference of opinion in even that.  Take a look at this blog:

        Bypassing Competition for Success

        I'm probably reading it wrong.  I do tend to go to extremes.  But this one seems to be saying no individual glory.  Only team success. 

        If you rest on what you've done in the past, yes, that is a problem.  But sharing the experience of the past will help us not repeat the mistakes of the past - I hope.


  • Thank you for taking the time to write this blog in between a very busy schedule.

    "Damned if you do, and damned if you don't", truer words have never been spoken.  This applies to any debate or any controversial thinking.

    Strong thinkers - yes like you Matthias, will state your opinion - controversial or not.  I think Politically correct is used too much in this world.

    Children are not politically correct.  They as a rule say whatever they are thinking.  As a society we say thing like "Shhhhh... don't say things like that".  Now if it is something hurtful, I agree 100% they shouldn't be saying it.  But what if as they grow they say something like "I think the president XYZ."  Should we "Shhh..".  Or should we debate and talk about it?  Then once they get to school again are they going to be told not to argue the point?

    I have lost count of the times I have told my son it's OK to debate me, but not your teacher.  (By the way, he started school, and his teacher talked to him as she would any small child.  "Now Nate do you know what 2 + 2 is?".  That was the first time I got a bit of a shock.  He looked at her, and said "Why don't you know?  It's 4 of course".   He came home and said his teacher was stupid because she didn't know what 2 + 2 was.   Yes, we talked to him about it.  He is 13 now, and still challenges his teachers every now and then.

    We are taught from an early age a certain way of thinking.  It will not be easy to break this cycle.   Is it women in technology?  Sure.  That girl over there should not be in advanced math.  Why?  Because she is a girl.  I have found at school conferences that girls are few and far between in advanced math.  They don’t want to be a “nerd”.  BUT Hurrah they are there.

    Does MY son hold these preconceived ideas?  Gosh I would hope not.   Again a BUT...  When he doesn't get his way he says he wants to just lay around like his dad!!!!  Oh no, he didn't just say that.  Of course, he gets in trouble for saying things like that.  (My husband is a stay at home Dad.  He works a lot harder and longer than I do.)

    And so - I wrap up my ultra long comment with that thought.  "Damned if You Do and Damned If You Do Not".  Even if you know you are going to lose, try that debate.  You may win.  You may lose.  But you will be true to yourself.  Politically correct - if everyone thought like that.  No debates, no creativity, no lights, no computers, no great poetry... 

    Thank you for an excellent time in a session where we all could share our thoughts openly.