Researchers at Harvard’s Department of Evolutionary Biology have been studying male and female attitudes toward executive leadership.
According to Time Magazine, their conclusions were perfectly predictable:
A new study suggests that men prefer being in charge, whereas women are better at working with their peers. … [T]he study only confirms what many office dwellers already know….
Not surprises here. This truth extends to all primate species. Darwin would have approved.
The results itself aren’t that groundbreaking. Studies have shown that women enjoy working in groups with peers and that men enjoy being the boss. It’s true across primate species, and humans are no exception.
Those who believe in science would not have found a problem here.
The study also suggests that women, for reasons that may or may not have to do with gender, are far less likely to mentor young women.
In Time’s words:
Though women’s ability to work together to accomplish a goal may benefit them in the workplace, there’s also a downside. The researchers write, “Female superiors may also be less willing than male superiors to invest in lower-ranked same-sex individuals.” This finding is consistent with a 2011 LinkedIn study that found that only one in five women have had a professional mentor, and only half of those women were mentored by a woman.
One might conclude that this derives from an innate difference between the sexes. The author sees it another way. She concludes:
…the findings may bolster Sheryl Sandberg’s quest to get women to lean in more and to be better mentors.
… but it seems yet again that we have evidence that women need to make a concerted effort to help one another out.
Helping out by cooperating is not the same thing as helping out by mentoring someone.
Be that as it may, the Time writer could have looked at the research and concluded that Sheryl Sandberg’s crusade is based on an ideologically-driven denial of the reality of gender. Such a conclusion would have been cogent and consistent.
If she did not even give any consideration to that explanation, it tells us that she counts herself among those who continue to believe that they can impose their ideology on reality.
At the same time, she does not respect the female corporate executives who have made a free choice, not to mentor young women.
Should we not respect their decisions?
If we do not, we are saying that their choices are not free, but are influenced by outside forces. We are making accomplished and successful women into puppets.
If Sheryl Sandberg has made a different choice, we respect her choice, without question. And yet, why would a woman who works in one of the least diverse industries in the nation try to persuade other women to live as she has chosen to live?
Writing on Slate, Jessica Grose looks at the reality of gender difference and quickly declares it to be depressing. One wonders why anyone would adopt an ideology that is so out of sync with reality that it generates constant disappointment, but, that’s for another day.
Grose reports on a recent article from the Harvard Business Review. It concluded that even when women occupy high executive positions, they still do not think like men about the balance between work and family life. They continue to be far more invested in their home life than are executive men. Men seem to be perfectly contented with what looks like a modernized version of a traditional division of household labor.
A revealing—and depressing—article in this month’s Harvard Business Review shows that no matter how much power female executives have accrued, or how much lip service male executives might publicly pay, family issues are still seen as a female problem.
The first difference between male and female execs is in the way they frame work-life conflicts. The men tend to choose work without regret when conflicts arise, because they frame their family role as “breadwinner.” This seems to alleviate any guilt. One interviewee says he doesn’t regret his divorce because he was always a good provider and was able to achieve his goals, and now he spends more time with his kids on weekends
As the authors point out, most women would not brag about only spending 10 minutes a day with their children. Contrast this with how a female executive frames her experience: “When you are paid well, you can get all the [practical] help you need. What is the most difficult thing, though—what I see my women friends leave their careers for—is the real emotional guilt of not spending enough time with their children. The guilt of missing out.”
Executive men tend to have more children than do executive women. More of the men are married, but the difference is not enormous.
The disparity shows up most starkly in the fact that the majority of male executives have stay-at-home wives, while only 10% of the female executives do.
“Fully 88% of the men are married, compared with 70% of the women. And 60% of the men have spouses who don’t work full-time outside the home, compared with only 10% of the women. The men have an average of 2.22 children; the women, 1.67.”
Also, more women executives sacrificed home and family in order to favor their careers:
Women interviewed were more likely to say that they avoided marriage and children entirely because they don’t want to deal with the potential conflict.
Grose is most depressed by the fact that men and women executives continue to see the household as a woman’s domain:
The most disheartening thing about the survey results is that executives—both male and female—continue to see the tension between work and family as a women’s problem. Male executives admit they don’t prioritize their families enough, and they don’t seem too bothered by it. They praise their spouses for taking over the homefront entirely, while female executives praise their spouses for not interfering with their careers.
Some feminists, like Sheryl Sandberg and Rebecca Traister, believe that they can solve the problem—or change reality—by having women become more aggressive and assertive.
To her credit, Grose sees how unrealistic this is:
She [Rebecca Traister] says that to get work-life balance issues on everyone’s radar, women need to “send aggressive messages about what’s wrong not just to each other, but to the dudes.” The problem, as outlined in the HBR piece, is that male executives—and here, we are talking about a very small percentage of super high-achieving men who run things, not men as a whole—don’t seem to care about being at home more. I don’t see how aggressively worded messages will change that. If there’s someone who will work insane hours, why would you give a promotion to someone who can’t or doesn’t want to? Indeed, even as stay-at-home dads with executive wives have gotten more ink lately, among two-parent households where women work, the number of stay-at-home dudes has slightly declined since the early ’90s.