I recently interviewed Jeffery Tobias Halter, a Gender Strategist who is making the business case for engaging and advancing women in today’s corporations. (Episode 13 – The Other 50%). One particular statement he made has stayed with me for more than a week. It was this: men compartmentalize so completely that they see the women at work as entirely different than the women at home. As in, they are different categories of people. As if they don’t make the connection between advocating for the women they love – their daughters, wives, mothers – and advocating for the women at work.
Now, if that's true, why is it? I think it is deep. Deep. In the psyche. Let’s begin to unpack it.
There is the Man Code piece. As Halter explained in his interview, men are brought up to fear and loathe anything feminine in a male – emotion, weakness, femininity. The worst insult to hurl at a male is to call him a female insult – pussy, wuss, bitch, girl. So, if men compete at work, and women are seen as weak, or less than, why would you ever align with them? Or how could you follow them? How could they take top spots in leadership?
Maybe there is a piece that involves attraction, and that is a slippery slope at the office. You can’t put women in the same category as your wife – that is the road to personal and professional destruction.
There is also a piece that involves your role at home. If you are the breadwinner and your wife’s main job is to take care of you and your family – serve everyone else, essentially – do you actually see her as your equal? Do you really? Now take a moment here. Do you really?
If your wife stays at home, and you think that is her right and proper place, how do you reconcile women who are at the office? Are they a different kind of woman? What if they are a mother? What then? Do you have an unconscious bias about them? Or about their husbands? What if they don’t have a husband? What then?
Something I find troubling is that the most common example of the most downtrodden hopeless figure in society is that of the single mother of three. This is the person who can’t get it together, will never have enough money, is often working several subpar jobs, and is barely raising her poor, low-expectation children. Now, there is plenty of data to suggest that single women raising children are the most represented demographic in poverty. But, it is also not every single mother. (Silently raising my hand in the back row.) But, I know this perception, so I, as a single mother of three, keep my children very much on the down low and kick ass at my job so that people are actually surprised when they realize I have children. I think it blows wide open their stereotypes. But I digress.
In a survey done several years ago, participants were asked to rate women in business alongside men in business. Business women were seen as equivalent to businessmen. However, once a woman became a mother, they were rated slightly higher than the stupid. That is a gender bias that lives deep deep beneath the surface.
I suspect there is also a religious root to this. As a Judeo/Christian culture, there is a prevailing bias that men are the head of the household, women are to be subservient to their husbands, and this is the natural order ordained by God. That is hard to break up.
Or, is it that some men are so blind to gender differences, that they forget some women have a whole other job once they leave the office. Despite the uptick of women in full time employment, the data shows that women still hold responsibility for 70% of the home and childcare duties. So, if your workplace’s path to success requires a person to be unfettered by household responsibilities, it is simply going to be harder for women to get to the top. As one study bore out, a workplace designed for the worker to have a spouse at home taking care all of all household responsibilities, is in itself discriminatory.
Maybe it is simpler than that. Maybe some men are just competitive in the workplace and they are just going to compete with whomever is there. Is not about promoting or engaging anyone, it’s just about winning. And if the deck is already stacked in their favor, why would they reach over and pull someone else up? Does it even occur to them to do so?
And what is women’s piece in it? Women have internalized the patriarchy just as much as men have. We sometimes see ourselves as the underdog. Trying to get ahead, trying to prove something. Coming from a place of having to earn respect, rather than having it granted because we showed up with a penis. That is a distinct disadvantage. And it is a rare woman who can stand up with full confidence in the face of patriarchy and declare I am here, I am worthy, and I have as much right as you to speak, be heard, and contribute. We are much more apologetic, as evidenced by the way we communicate – sorry, do you have a minute? Sorry, I was just thinking, maybe, I don’t know of course, but what if…..?
So, what is to be done? Well, since men still own the majority of the power, it will take their involvement to share the wealth. Jeffery puts forth the argument that it is men’s responsibility to advocate on behalf of women because of their daughters, their wives, their mothers. If they want their daughters to reach their full potential, they have to start clearing the path. Yes, I agree. And men have had daughters since the beginning of time. So what is different now?
I would take it a step further. What if we start seeing women as full humans first, rather than in the context of their relationship to men? As Caitlin Moran points out time and time again in her brilliant book How to be a Woman, to find out if something is sexist, ask this question….does the same apply for men? Do we look at men in business as their relationships to women first and foremost? Daniel is a husband, father, son and a very keen executive! That sounds absurd. And yet, we talk about advocating for women because they are someone’s daughter, or someone’s wife. What if we were to advocate for women because they are fully formed humans with intelligence and gifts to bring to an organization. Does that sound radical? As long as that is a radical thought, let’s keep saying it until it becomes ridiculous.
Further, the data shows that when there are enough women in leadership who feel comfortable being wholly themselves, it affects the profitability of the company significantly. For the better. Is that not reason enough?
What do you think? Do men see women at home as different creatures from the women at work? And what does that even mean?