Monday, April 26, 2010

A Woman in a Man's World

Last week Becky offered a comment on this blog that set me to thinking. In her words: "If women communicate so well, how come so many women prefer to work with men? I have heard numerous times from women that they would rather work with men, and never heard one say that they would rather work with women." Link here.

I had heard the same thing myself, so I was not completely surprised. Now, however, I have discovered that the point has been researched. Recent studies show unambiguously that women prefer male bosses and prefer to work with men. Sources as diverse as the Huffington Post and Forbes draw exactly the same conclusion. Links here and here.

As it happens, everyone who conducts these surveys or reads them expresses the same surprise. What happened to sisterhood, what happened to female solidarity, what happened to women's much-touted ability to communicate so well?

I would venture that the level of our shock reveals the extent we have bought into the mythology about male/female relationships promulgated by the therapy culture.

Take a simple example. Psychologists have noticed that women communicate better, share feelings better, talk more, and presumably form more durable relationships. They have concluded that if more women enter the workforce harmony will naturally ensue.

Apparently, working women beg to differ. The article I linked from the Huffington Post reports an informal survey of women attending business school. In their view women managers, and perhaps even colleagues, are like the "mean girls" in high schools. They evince what I called in a past post, on rather a different topic: Women's inhumanity to women. Link here.

Why then are we so surprised to find that the more communicative gender has the most trouble working together? The simple reason is that those who have analyzed and interpreted the findings made a basic mistake. They have assumed that the social skills that women use to forge intimate relationships are the same as those that go into working together on a team.

They are not. And any woman who tries to bring to the workplace skills that would best remain within the private sphere is going to cause trouble.

As Shaunti Feldhahn explains in a recent post, a man's world is defiantly oriented toward business, and, for a man, that means that personal matters, emotional matters, private matters have no place in it. For men in business the wall that separates public and private is as strict as the wall that separates church and state. Link here.

The second reason we find these results surprising is simple: we have been acculturated to view male-female workplace relationships through the optic of feminist mythology. If you only know what the media presents, you would imagine that when a woman enters a man's world she is immediately assailed by sports metaphors, forced to contend with a hostile work environment, assaulted by sexually suggestive language, and rendered anxious and defensive by men prey to frequent testosterone rushes.

In the feminist view the male workplace is designed to exclude women, to keep them in their place, or better, to keep them at home. Businessmen who pass the time exploiting the poor and disadvantaged are terrified that the softening influence of morally superior will cause them to become more fair and just... and to make less money.

If that is the way you see the man's world of work, you will be shocked to read that a vast majority of women would rather work for a man than a woman.

Perhaps the reason is simple. When men form teams or work groups they tend to define the rules of interaction clearly. They define the roles and the responsibilities precisely. You know your position; you know your responsibilities; you know how you will be judged. Teams are not based on communicating feelings; they are based on knowing your role and fulfilling your duties.

If emotion does not enter the picture, then each participant is judged according to merit and results, not how someone feels about them.

Is it really a surprise that women would be happier working in an environment where everything is designed to facilitate their ability to do their jobs, and where they know that they will be judged and compensated fairly, according to merit.

Funnily enough, anyone who has suffered the influence of feminist acculturation will believe that a workplace that treats people fairly is a fiction and that a workplace where everyone is involved in the war between the sexes is the fact.

The studies show that real women beg to differ.

Another reason merits discussion. Many of the women who were asked about their preference noted that women become mothers, and that being mothers makes them less present, and thus, less effective mentors. I realize that this is controversial, and that feminists will tell us that motherhood is yet another social construct, but women in business seem to know better.

Feldhahn observes that in a man's executive world there is no punching the clock. In her words: "The Male Culture defines the workday as 'whatever it takes,' and the unwritten rule is that a team member who is not present during the entire ordeal (however long it takes) is not a team player and is less committed to the organization."

Does this rule disadvantage mothers? Doubtless it does. Does it mean that mothers are judged by a different standard? Not at all.

Was it invented to keep women out of the workplace or prevent them from advancing in their careers? Unless you are a true believing feminist, you probably know that it was not.

Women have different priorities; they have different life options. Groups will make some allowances for them, but it will not change the rules for them.

You cannot change the rules for those who have conflicting priorities without undermining the cohesion and functionality of the team.

Most of the women surveyed have understood that clearly. Given the media presentation of the workplace we all feel some level of surprise. But if we are surprised, doesn't that mean that feminists have led us to underestimate women?


Robert Pearson said...

I would add that this model of executive objectivity, compartmentalization of feelings and emotions and "whatever it takes, as long as it takes" to get the job done are cultural as well as gender norms. Countries struggle economically when the clan and tribe of the persons involved affect business decisions, when social position determines who runs things and when appearances sometimes take precedence over performance.

These characteristics correspond pretty well to my experience of the way all-female organizations (certain charities, etc.) are run. The feminine approach to the world is invaluable in many human situations, but not in getting the ore out of the ground and turning it into gold bars. Of course, many very feminine women have found success in business--by being "masculine" at work.

Anonymous said...

I've been fortunate to work for a couple of good woman bosses in the military and in engineering. They had tremendous qualifications, but they had something else:

The common trait of the two great bosses was they were "momma bears". They were protective, kind, and established a strong group identity dedicated to high-performance.

I'll work for a Momma Bear anytime. They are ferocious and take care of their own.