Good Causes, Roses and Bullsh*t

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What exactly does ‘Women’s Empowerment’ Mean? I’m so sick of hearing this term, especially because I now think it’s completely meaningless, and um, offensive.

Are we ‘giving’ women power or ‘allowing’ them to take charge of their life?

Here’s how the story goes:

Dear Kathy, your credentials are amazing and after meeting you, we think you are super cool. We would love you to give a workshop at Ruthless Organization for women’s empowerment. Oh and yeah, we can’t pay, please do it for free.

Hold on a bleeding minute. You have a BURNING mission to empower women so that they can stand up for themselves, learn things, start a business, make money, and be a contributing member of society,… so that they can…

Work for you. For FREE?!?!

Let me get this straight. I invested 12 years of my life in my education, busted my ass to get full scholarships at kick-ass universities for my degrees, held down two part time jobs at any moment in time so I could afford an apartment and um, trips home, revamped my career and life to suit the Middle East, I now juggle three kids along with a career as a coach, I taught myself most of what I know, I read books and take classes, and stay up late nights adding to my repertoire of knowledge, (in brief, empower my goddamn self!) so that you won’t pay me?

Excuse me?


You know what? Women who want to be empowered, empower themselves. They’re not waiting for anyone to give them permission to do whatever the hell they want to do. What they do need though is opportunities to do their thing, they need their contributions to be valued (yes, with MONEY not with a THANK YOU NOTE and ROSES! Although those help.). They need mentors to teach them how to deal with pricks who don’t want to pay them, and they need to draw the line when it comes to giving away their services for free.

I once had an interview with the head of CSR at a MAJOR Organization. When she (SHE!) asked me to do a job for free, I said no, I don’t do free. She asked, why not? This is for women’s empowerment. I said: because I invested many years to get my education and countless more hours of experience, knowledge and slogging through life to get to where I am, I DESERVE an ROI on my investment. You know what she said? “Oh too bad. But this is for a good cause!”

You know what’s an even better cause? I AM!

Me and my self-esteem and the self-worth I want to teach my daughters to have. That’s a good cause!

If I’m not getting paid a single penny for what I’m contributing, then how do I know if my contribution has value? And how do the people hiring me know that I value myself and my own contribution if I’m willing to do all that work for free?

It’s just a two hours workshop, they whine. Well for every hour of workshop, it takes at least five hours of research and preparation. MY five hours. My five hours away from my kids and husband, away from my clients, away from a good book, away from sleep for God’s sake! You’d better make it worth my while!

Well maybe I don’t need women’s empowerment, I hear you say, but maybe other women do. First of all, you don’t empower someone at the expense of someone else. Second of all, yes they absolutely might, but so far the only models that have worked are ones where not only are soft skills delivered, but MONEY is injected into their ventures, they are given guidance and mentoring in entrepreneurship, and their businesses are incubated and developed step by step until sustainability. Just delivering mass workshops for free to those who come is nothing but a ‘feel good’ shot for whoever is running the program, a mandatory expenditure of budget so that it is renewed, and actual impact is neither measured or likely.

I’m sorry I can’t offer a phrase that will replace Women’s Empowerment with something more dignified. How about Women’s Value and Contribution? Too trite?

Any suggestions?

In the meantime:

Don’t Empower women, Value their contribution by PAYING them!

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