Last weekend, my daughter and I went to see Captain Marvel to soak in all the goodness of a badass female superhero. I had not read many reviews beforehand to avoid any spoilers but I was thoroughly briefed by the kid, who is a Marvel superfan, so I knew what to expect as far as how Captain Marvel fits into the Avengers’ story. I was also hopeful we would walk out of the theater feeling a similar sense of uplift we felt after watching Black Panther. What I was not expecting was to see so many parallels between Captain Marvel and women in business.
A stretch? Not really. Am I reading into things too much? Possibly, but I am betting many women will be able to relate and see the same things I saw. I’m not saying you have to be a badass female superhero capable of superhuman feats to succeed in the biz/tech world, except that you do!
Listening to Your Emotions Has a Role to Play at Work
At the start of the movie, Vers (aka Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel) is seen training with Yon-Rogg, a Kree warrior who tells her that she needs to let her head lead her and not her heart. This message of not letting her emotions guide her is a recurrent theme in the movie and ultimately is brushed off by Captain Marvel embracing all her memories to find her power.
In my career, I have been told time and again that I am emotional, I show my feelings, I am too passionate, I have a short fuse. And I know I am not alone. Women are often labeled “emotional” because many men do not really know how to deal with their own emotional landscape let alone the thick thriving vibrant gardens that can be women. A woman arguing against the consensus or passionately selling an idea or position is labeled emotional or angry or excited or even crazy as the great Nike ad encourages us to be. Yet, a man showing his emotions through swearing, throwing things or raising his voice can be seen merely as disappointed or frustrated. I’d go as far as to say it’s been codified, in tech and out, as the cost of being a leader. The price of genius. A guy who follows his gut is smart, daring, even ambitious. But a woman who follows her heart is often seen as irrational. Even if you do not follow tennis, you might have heard of heard of the Serena Williams incident at the US Open where a display of emotions that are usually ok for male tennis players was called into play.
But let’s forget for a second how biased the whole “emotionally charged” female portrayal is and look at the benefit of acknowledging your emotions rather than suppress them. There is, of course, a difference between recognizing and harnessing your feelings and just letting your emotions rule your judgment. Emotional Intelligence has grown in importance over the years so much as to be seen as a critical component for AI and Digital Assistants. But how can we get it right for the computing power to be when our workplace does not? Emotions are not a weakness and being able to recognize them in ourselves or others can help us be better at our job. This is particularly true in some line of business such as hospitality, care, teaching, creative professions like design but also extremely important in any leadership position. Every business should recognize emotional intelligence as a skill but tech as the responsibility to do so in order to avoid bringing today’s problems into tomorrow’s world.
Empowerment Does not Only Come from Others
Captain Marvel gets her power by accident, but despite her training with Yon-Rogg, she finds her full strength in herself by herself. It was not the training, and it was not the men or women in her life who give Captain Marvel her full powers. Her best friend does help her find her way, but ultimately, Carol finds her own strength by drawing from within.
When it comes to women at work, we often talk about mentors and supporters we talk about other people empowering us to be better, achieve more, go further. Less frequently we turn to ourselves for strength and skills and power. Hard not to think that it is likely because, just like Captain Marvel, we are often told not to be too confident because we become cocky, we are told not to raise our voice because we become hysterical and we are told we cannot have children and a career cause we cannot have it all. But what if instead of listening to the voices that tell us what we should not and cannot do we focused on what we know we can do? And what if we surround ourselves with positive influences that allow us to take the power we have within and turn it into something great?
We all Win When Women Support Women
Trusting more in yourself does not mean you should do it alone. Maria Rambeau is Carol Danvers’ best friend. She is a Black single mother who is a great fighter pilot and who is confident, self-aware and loyal. It is because Maria knows who she is that she can remind Carol of who she is. Ultimately it is Maria’s support that transforms Carol into Captain Marvel.
Women are still battling to be heard, be seen, be invited to the table even as the tables get bigger. Especially at the more senior level, being in tech or politics or, any other business, to be honest, there are so few opportunities that some feel the battle is not just with men but with other women. There is often criticism, lack of support, and lack of loyalty when it comes to women. I think this kind of attitude towards our fellow women is one of the reasons behind Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 Presidential Elections.
It is rare to witness a representation of the level of loyalty and support that Maria has for Carol and to see what that enables is certainly something we should try and replicate in our careers. Supporting, amplifying, encouraging, mentoring women is an excellent thing for all, for the one who give and those who receive. I have been lucky to have had male and female sponsors and mentors in my career and random women who shared pearls of wisdom over the years. There are plenty of women I look up to, and I always try and give back in any way I can. I am a little selfish of course because I am hoping to foster a wave of support that will mean by the time my daughter and her generation will get into the business world and they try and take a seat at the proverbial table they won’t have to bring a folding chair ala Shirley Chisholm in 1972 but the will be invited, remunerated and advanced just like their male counterparts.
There were many magical moments in Captain Marvel, and as we often do, I did stop to think if maybe some aspects were a little over the top. Was she flying too high? Was she glowing too much? But my very wise little girl pointed out that Vision also flies, and Thor has glowing eyes, and yet I never said those were too much. Maybe I listened to my own voices over the years saying I should control my power, and I should be realistic about my career expectations and my life goals. But what if, instead, we embrace our inner Captain Marvel and go higher, further, faster, what then? When we build and create for those who come after us, the world we know is possible even if doesn’t exist yet.