woman leaning against a brick wall in a white jacket
woman leaning against a brick wall in a white jacket

Have you noticed that the best conversations at parties take place in the kitchen? You’ll often find women and a few men there, cleaning up or otherwise attending to the hidden work of the house or children. In that space where people feel safer, confidences flow.
Confidence is an interesting word, isn’t it? It comes from old French, meaning to have assurance in the good will of another. People who want to help in the kitchen are usually kind, or at least believe they ought to try to be kind, which mostly amounts to the same thing.
If you share confidences with people who help you succeed or reframe your failures into successes, you become self-confident. Many male leaders that I know have that quality. Many women leaders I know struggle for it.
My co-author Seth Levine and I were in a “kitchen-space” last week in at the Roux Institute in Portland, Maine. Many people shared their vulnerabilities with us, some in the group and some later. We opened the dynamic when I challenged Seth on the stage. He took it with good humor, and we both made it safer for people to be vulnerable. Put broadly: For women, issuing a challenge means making oneself vulnerable; for men, accepting one does
For a long time, my experiences of safe places at work were those that excluded men, true for many women of my generation. Many men would be astonished to hear the kitchen-space conversations that go on among high-powered women. They quickly turn to experiences of sexual assaults and abusive relationships, self-doubt, and mindfulness, intuition and magic, the strange tokens women use to navigate a dangerous world. Once, an entrepreneur at a woman’s only event pulled out a string of crystals she wore tucked in her bra and claimed they helped her make clearer decisions. No judgment! I’d rather have a leader who embraces crystals than one who plays with flamethrowers.
Watching and reading about Olympian Simone Biles’ withdrawal for mental health reasons made me grateful for the way younger women are opening the conversation, as she did when talked about the crippling reality of self-doubt — which is physically dangerous for an athlete.
The public space of the Olympics became a kitchen space, or vice versa. Either way, the norm is changing. More people feel safe in more places, and that can only be a good thing.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.

A business journalist for 20 years, am the founder of Times of Entrepreneurship and the co-author of The New Builders.