Behind every great woman …

I still get an occasional email from people I worked with in my corporate world. This weekend, I received one with several interesting links that I intend to talk about here over the next few days. This is one regarding gender in the workplace.

Warning! Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson! — what follows is a semi-analytical discussion of gender and society. While I have thought about this topic for some time, and continue to do so, I do not pretend to be an “expert” (if such a thing even exists). Your eyes may roll. Many apologies. If you don’t care to act in at least a semi-civil fashion about the topic, then I’m sure you can find something more interesting to spend your time on. [grin]

The thing I like about this article is that the foundation it uses to build its points begins with the idea that distribution of goals and personality types is the same for all people types that we keep trying to segment our populations into. I think this is one of the most important steps “the world” can take toward resolving our differences with the other–which, in the case of this article happens to be gender.

I also like that the discussion it makes hinges on the idea that human success in areas of intense competition (such as raising through the ranks of the senior executive branch of a company), is greatly enabled by that person’s support structure. I have so very often told Lisa that whatever success I had in my corporate days was completely shared by her, and completely created by the fact that she was doing all the things it takes to maintain a stable household. And I completely lived that fact after she quit working part-time out of the home and became a corporate being. Merely the fact that dinner is ready (or in process) when one gets home from work is a major relief.

I think you can go a long way toward describing the way the world works if you put these two equations together:

1) Despite society’s thinking in the matter, personality traits are actually fairly evenly distributed among people types (in this case, men and women).
2) People (both men and women) are more likely to succeed in competitive endeavors when their support structure allows them to focus all their energy in the areas of their interest.

To use these two lenses, all you really need to do is ask “why?” something exists, then think about these two “equations.”

For example: Why are there more men in positions of power today? Answer, men often have more effective support at home. (Another interesting variant of the question: why do some men win over other men? I posit that oftentimes, it’s because the winner has a stronger support structure).

Another example: Why are there so few women at the top of the corporate food chains? Answer, they tend to not have support structures at home that are as strong as mens’ (meaning, men do not stay at home often, even today, and two income families are very tough to operate in–and even tougher for women because they still tend to do most of the day-to-day work). Why do men not stay in the home? Because we are taught so early in our lives by our support structures that to be a man one must provide. It is not seen (by either men, or women) as cool for a man to be the one who stays at home, but it is often seen as pretty cool for a woman to be a stay-at-home mom.

[Opinion — in this light, I liked the example in the article of Norwegian leaders’ mindset about their country’s paternity leave policy–“companies are beginning to question the character and values of a male employee who does not take his paternity leave. What kind of a man would not choose to be with and care for his son or daughter?” … what a great question, eh?] It all leads me to ask “how many men have lost out on their true calling merely because society made it such that they felt their role was to go make the money?

And it works in non-corporate arenas, too. Why do people get bullied? Answer, they don’t have a strong enough support structure. [Note, in this case, the support structure could be friends, family, or society in general] Why do women get bullied by men in sexually aggressive ways? (aside, I’m no absolute expert, of course, but it seems to me that most, if not all, sexual harassment is essentially a “special case” of bullying–which is all about power and domination) Answers(s): a) Men are competing, actively trying to put themselves one-up on the woman, and feels their support structure supports this, and b) Some still believe women should inherently expect to be addressed in certain ways that, while perhaps not physically aggressive, are still bullying. *

* This case of bullying is interesting because there is some “truth” to the argument that the bully is not really performing sexual harrassment. To use very blunt terms, this kind of abuser sees absolutely no harm in using a term like “cunt” or “bitch” to describe a woman because he also uses the term “dick” or “asshole” to describe a man. Both of these are very aggressive forms of bullying, and the bullier often seems incapable of understanding the difference that gender and the way society has crafted our competitive environment can make.

Anyway, you can go on.

I like thinking about this article in this way because then I can ask other questions that help me think about what the “right” answers are.

For example,(at the risk of being a bit pedantic here) there is absolutely nothing wrong with either men or women competing hard for a position, just as there should be absolutely nothing wrong with a male deciding he wants to be the support structure. However, the male competitor’s support structure needs to sharply curtail a man’s use of his maleness to intimidate (let’s face it, we can speak generically in this area, but today’s world is still mostly about men intimidating women, rather than visa versa). And the woman competitor’s support structure needs to deeply support that woman’s persistence and pursuit–which specifically means that it needs to help her pick herself up when she fails and it needs to help her try again.

Nothing is ever an absolute, of course, and to peel this onion further requires a little squinting of the eyes or a bit more abstract thinking. But as general rules, I think you can study almost every issue you can think of through these two lenses and see that we are basically our own greatest enemy when it comes to getting along.

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  1. Gender issues are a fascinating topic specifically for their ubiquitous nature, and for the fact that they essentially define so much about what it means to be human–both its glorious element and its depressive. Difference is great, except for when it’s not. I fully understand the need to be fully understood is universal, but for me … well … I don’t know what I don’t know, but I’m coming to the opinion that showing me you’re listening to the other side as much as you’re talking is kind of a ticket to the game. Show me you have equal compassion for and equal comprehension of the issues on both sides, and I’ll put you up a rung on my list of folks who make me think. I don’t think our “problems” are fixable by addressing only one element.

    All that said, I think the male side of the equation can still have the biggest near-term impact … but that’s mostly because males are still those most often in positions of power. Many things are changing, though. And it’s happening faster than you might think.

    Would love to hear more of the book. 🙂

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