There is a Memphis where important things get done against long odds and powerful opposition aimed specifically at the very people trying to accomplish these goals that most of us agree are worthy.
That Memphis is not the frontline Memphis enough of the time. It’s not even the Memphis our younger business leaders envision as they work on ways to retain the talent we have and attract the talent we want.
For this Memphis to succeed, women have to be prepared to ignore conventional wisdom and look for the smallest opening to an opportunity. To just get there, they might be paid less than a man doing the very same job even if it has a different title. They will gain wisdom and counsel from women who, in the words of Susan Stephenson, co-founder of Independent Bank, the city’s second-largest bank, “the world wasn’t ready for them to have the opportunities they created for me.”
Stephenson is the keynote speaker for our Feb. 28 Women and Business seminar at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
It is an occasion to note advances as well as challenges. The forum is also a place and time for men and women in our business community to talk honestly and openly about leadership and the construction – figuratively and literally – of a Memphis that is rooted in a better future.
Building that Memphis has never been easy. But it also doesn’t have to be as difficult as we often make it.
We wait for the “right person” to discover an idea that is already being talked about by those locked out of the process. This kind of unnecessary gatekeeping is the close cousin of the paternalism of another era.
The problems we face are difficult enough to overcome and the sustainable economic growth we seek challenging enough without discounting the contributions of Memphians for factors other than the merit of their contributions.
Sometimes we gather to talk about how to work an arcane system that seems “too big to fail” even as it fails too many of us.
Going through barriers and changing systems in a constructive way takes time, in some cases lifetimes. And progress made in imperfect settings is genuine progress.
But as we talk about maneuvering through and around such barriers, we hope there is also an opportunity to discuss change on a larger scale. Although such change will almost certainly be more gradual, it is a conversation that must continue.
It is tempting to argue that the unfairness and adversity faced by the women is another flavor of the unfairness and adversity that is part of a tough environment in which survival of the fittest is the outcome for all in one way or another.
With success comes power and with power comes the ability to make substantial change. Success and power have always been about advancement more than survival.