Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's a Man's World. (How Are They Doing?)

(More from my digital compost heap.)

Father O'Malley: On the outside, it's a man's world.
Sister Benedict: How are they doing?
Father O'Malley: (Sheepishly) Not too good.
-The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

One of my favorite snips of movie dialog. Ever. Pity it's still true 65 years later.

A social media disagreement caught my attention a couple of months ago when social media guru Chris Brogan tweeted something (or maybe it was in his blog feed?) along the lines of sometimes wishing he didn’t allow comments on his blog. Of course, that drove me straight to his blog to read his post, “Women in the Workplace,” and the reader comment of interest from Rieva Lesonsky, noted business consultant, author, and editor. (I read the other comments, too. Lots of evidence of privilege – good intentions but lack of understanding due to insider status.)

Chris Brogan stated in a comment (which seems to have disappeared now) on Rieva Lesonsky’s blog that the main points of his post were:
  1. Not all women WANT to lead, at least the way leadership is set up now. 
  2. Maybe women are leading “from different chairs” inside and outside of organizations.
To #2, I say, "No kidding." Women have always led behind the scenes in business, making significant contributions.

The problem is that women do not receive the same recognition and tangible rewards for their leadership as men do.  In fact, many men (and, to be fair, some women) have built their careers on the backs of highly talented females leading from different (less prestigious, less compensated) chairs. I doubt that many men, however, make similar complaints about having to manage upward while their female bosses keep rocketing up the corporate ladder.

To #1, I say, “Not untrue, but let's not use it to avoid the issue.”

Of course not all women want to lead, nor do all men. The difference is that women who want to lead and are talented enough to do so successfully are not given the same chances in terms of development into the role, decision-making authority, and commensurate compensation, as men. Lots of men. Often, untalented men. Men who may not even want to lead but took the money and title anyway.  

Despite the problems in leadership perception and expectations corporate America, do you really think that women with leadership talent and a desire to lead would turn down high pay and a prestigious titles if they were offered?  Heck, no! No more than the men do, anyway. They want to lead!

Would women change the frame of leadership if they could? Probably. But they are not in a position to do so. They have to get into the executive suite before they can make impactful changes to what defines corporate leaders, but there are nowhere enough of them in corporate leadership to be heard over the din of the old boys club.

And, sorry to burst the self-determination bubble, but Mary Middle Manager is not going to be able to revolutionize leadership at XYZ organization from a grass roots level. And, frankly, to expect her to do so is ridiculous. Oh, sure, if you don’t like something , change it – we’ve heard the rhetoric. But the reality is that business is NOT a democracy, nor is it primed for revolution. It is primed for self preservation. Most people go to work to earn a living, not change the world. Mary may be brilliant, but unless she is in the executive suite she has no real influence, no one really cares about her plight, and peers won’t rally around her to propel the coup. Worse, if she sticks her neck out too far, she just may anger the overlords. And Mary probably needs that job. After all, she’s still generally making 80-85% of what her male peers are making, no matter how you slice it.

Why will Mary leave to start her own business, retire in place, or off-ramp? It’s not that she doesn’t want to lead in the current leadership environment – she does! But by the time she effects the organizational changes that will open the top jobs to her – before she’s given the chance to lead – she’ll  be long retired.  Who wants to fall on the sword for a glacially moving cause?

Reminds me of this poster. I don’t want to end up with my picture on a demotivational poster with the caption, “Midas Touche’:  Did she seriously think she’d ever convince the golden boys to share their gold?”

Technorati tags: , , , ,


Just to round out the story, here is the comment I left on Chris Brogan’s blog:

I understand Chris’ issues with this response. But, as a mid-career professional woman, I understand where Rieva is coming from, too. I have been exploring gender bias through involvement with diversity initiatives at my company. (I love my company.) Frankly, I was shocked to discover how much rationalizing I’ve done about the bias I have seen, experienced, and even (unwittingly) enabled in my career. Clearly, Rieva was quicker than I in recognizing the realities of gender bias and is passionate about it. We need to be outraged, because it *is* outrageous that gender bias can still be an issue in corporate America in 2010. In her response, Rieva raises some very important points:

1. Sexism is still alive and well.
It’s not necessarily covert, which implies intent. I think it is more of a failure to recognize white male privilege and the resulting subconscious sexism. Most of the decision-makers I know, men and women, have good intentions and have championed improvements. But, there is so far to go.

It took me years to admit that the primary determinants of my career progress were not merely hard work and talent. I received many kudos and rewards (and much more work), but not the particular career-propelling opportunities that fast tracked my male peers for highly-compensated, direction-setting jobs. I duped myself into thinking that I was taking the right steps to control my own career destiny. I control it now, but had to reconstruct my approach on the ashes of long-held beliefs.

I have long led from another chair. The question is, “Why should I have to?”
2. Perhaps we’re avoiding the priority problem by diverting attention to fruitless analysis of wants
Clearly, asking someone what they want is better than shoving what you think they want at them. However, such rhetoric can be an avoidance technique. If I make the issue about undefined personal wants, then, as a decision maker, I can offer mentoring and my job is done. If I recognize it as a systemic problem of unequal opportunities, suddenly it is a big, complex problem that rattles my own security, requires major changes, and becomes imperative for me to address. Ick.
3. There’s still a huge wage gap
Chris cites statistics that say the gap is narrowing. No matter the size, should a gap exist at all in 2010? While women are paid less than men, they continue to have more stress and less opportunity. Stress and costs rise when a business trip means you have to scramble to find a live-in caregiver at a cost you can’t afford…or pay daycare an extra $100 to attend an emergency meeting scheduled on a day you don’t usually work…or are expected to work—and pay a sitter—on your unpaid FMLA because a crisis arose at the office…or part-time simply means you must do the full job in fewer hours at reduced pay.
4. We do not provide equal opportunity
We need to stop clinging to work structures defined back in a Donna Reed world. Neither women nor men who don’t fit the archaic stereotype can fully engage in their careers in this model—and we are losing out on their talents. With the many options available to us now for rethinking work-life, work locations, job responsibilities, etc., why can’t we move it along on this issue? A woman (or man) shouldn’t have to found a new company to align values with opportunities.
Thanks to both Chris and Rieva—and all the other commenters—for thought-provoking discussion.

No comments: