Why You're Going to Hear Things That Make You Uncomfortable From Doyenne


We’ve taken a new approach to our blog since the beginning of 2018.

Many of you have noticed.

We’re living out our motto: Be Audacious. We’re calling out and naming the attitudes, policies, and behaviors in our community that keep entrepreneurial resources and opportunities concentrated in the hands of a few. We’re challenging the power structures in our community, as well as the individual ways each of us participate in and benefit from racial and gender inequality.

We’re not surprised to hear that some of our posts have made some readers uncomfortable. We are also not surprised that some of our posts have made other readers celebrate. We are a diverse community with a wide variety of lived experiences and perspectives.

Doyenne’s mission is to build communities where women entrepreneurs from all backgrounds thrive. Our mission can’t be achieved unless we identify the cultural dynamics that get in the way of our community reaching our fullest potential. We cannot change what we cannot name.

We’ve spoken strongly about the attitudes we need to change around race and gender because we want Doyenne to be inclusive of all women — it is non-negotiable. Our goal is for women to come together and build the Doyenne house. It goes well beyond “we want women of color to feel welcome.” This language is problematic because it implies that women of color are White women’s guests. Doyenne does NOT want women of color to feel like guests in our house. We want them to be owners.

But, to bring us together — truly together — we need to develop our individual and collective competence to talk about race and gender. We need to step forward into spaces that will make many of us uncomfortable.

I recently attended the Startup Champions Network (SCN) Summit in Chattanooga, TN. This is a network of people from all over the country who are building entrepreneurial ecosystems in their cities — a network of my peers. At the Summit, we wrestled with the question of how we could build a national organization that models what diversity, equity and inclusion really looks like. One tool that helped our conversation was the Stages of Competency model.

Image Credit: http://lifecoachingcentre.co.uk/conscious-competence-ladder/

Doyenne approaches the entrepreneurial experience with the idea that entrepreneurs build their skills and identity over time and through practice. We can also use this approach for building skills and identity around equity. We’re all on this journey as we unpack the cultural education we’ve absorbed about people who are different from us. No one is exempt from this.

We start in the Unconscious Incompetence stage. This is the stage of blissful, yet dangerous ignorance. We don’t realize that we’re completely incompetent about how to handle issues of race and gender in our daily lives or the workplace. It’s possible to stay in that stage indefinitely if everyone around us makes sure we stay comfortable and avoids confronting us (often out their own instinct for self-preservation). We may also play a role by intentionally keeping our blinders on.

Once we become more aware of issues of race and gender in our environment and how they impact the people around us, we move into the state of Conscious Incompetence. In this stage, people often say, “But, I had no idea” or “I don’t want to say something hurtful, stupid…so I don’t say anything” or “If you don’t tell me, how am I supposed to know?!?”

Most of us HATE feeling incompetent. It’s a super uncomfortable place to be. We may feel distraught, guilty, and confused in that space. Our initial instinct may be to refute the evidence about the world, or about ourselves. Our cultural training might lead us to blame the messenger. Everything in us wants to draw back into the previous state, where we were comfortable in our ignorance. Where life was “easier” for us. But this resistance is an expression of privilege. If you’re a woman, you don’t get to retreat from the reality of sexism. If you’re a person of color, you can’t take a day off from the challenges of navigating systemic racism.

The next step is Conscious Competence, but getting there is a long road.

With practice, we get better at recognizing how our own behaviors and those of others contribute to oppression. We get better at listening to and absorbing how others experience the world, and we get better at more deeply understanding people who are different from us. With practice.

This is where Doyenne aims to work. We want to equip our members and our followers with the tools to practice moving through the stages of competence. In our work to grow our entrepreneurial skills, we also want to grow our ability to connect with and relate to our peers. We want to build a culture where discussions of equity are woven into our work together. Where everyone can be their full and authentic selves.

Eventually, we can reach the level of Unconscious Competence, when we no longer have to think so intensely about our words and our actions. Where the work becomes intuitive.  Where women and men, White people and people of color engage fully and equitably.

My colleague at the Startup Champions Network, Paolo Gregory Harris, suggested we think about the experience of learning to ride a bike.

First, we need to be made aware that bikes exist, and that we can ride them and perhaps, that it is worthwhile. If we are willing, we will get on the bike. And, most of us will crash! We will crash again and again.

Then, one day, we are suddenly riding! We are pedaling and steering and stopping, all at the right time, even though it takes intense concentration. We can’t get distracted because we will crash again. It can be tiring, but it feels good.

And with more practice, it becomes easier. Our minds and our bodies seem to know what to do with minimal effort.

Photo by David on Unsplash

On the way to learning how to ride a bike, we have to crash. I have a scar on my knee documenting it. When we realize that simple fact, it transforms the experience of learning how to ride. You crash, you dust yourself off, and instead of thinking, “That’s failure, and I quit!” you think, “That’s progress, and I am getting closer.”  

The process is the same with growing our competence around equity issues. We can’t build competence without crashing and burning. I’ve crashed dozens of times. I wrote about one crash that haunted me for years in a recent blog post. I’ve reached a level of conscious competence in one issue, only to become aware of another area in which I’m completely incompetent. I’m on an infinite loop. The key is just being willing to recognize where we are in the journey, and always keep working to move to the next level.

Doyenne cannot achieve its mission if we do not address issues of equity. There is no question about it. If we don’t name the structures and patterns that keep getting repeated, that keep everyone in our community from reaching their full potential, we cannot change them. We have to create different environments where people can move in different patterns.

We’ll be the first to admit, we aren’t fully sure what those new environments look like or what it will take to build it. But we’re trying. And, we’ll be doing more and more and more.

We invite you to join us in this effort. We invite you to step into space that might be uncomfortable. We invite you to engage in the dialogue to learn and to teach. We invite you to be a change agent.

If you’re willing, Doyenne will help you become able. Just come with us on the journey!