Saturday, May 12, 2012

Women Undermining Women

It is well enough known and generally accepted that women, by a large margin, would rather work for men.

This despite the fact that women have suffered decades of propaganda depicting businessmen as sexual harassers. For all that, when young women are asked their preference, they say that they would rather not work for other women.

It might be that women are naturally competitive with other women for male attention. If so, being the only woman in the room means not having to compete. A woman alone will monopolize the attention and feel that she can pick the best mate. It is hypergamy gone wild. 

Even if a woman is not looking for a husband, group dynamics allow her to feel more important and more attractive when she is one of a few women, not one among many women.

It is also be true that older women see young women as competition. Older women fear losing their men to younger, more attractive women. Thus, they try to ensure that their men see fewer of such women.

Now Professor Michelle Duguid has done a study that demonstrates another point that many of us have long suspected. In some conditions older women are less likely to hire younger women. In others they are more willing to do so.

Women are less inclined to hire other women when their own jobs have high prestige. When their jobs lack prestige, they are just as likely to hire other women.

Duguid calls it a value threat. The more women on a job the more the job will lose prestige or value.

A woman who has worked long and hard to rise up the corporate hierarchy has earned prestige. If she pulls other women up the ladder after her, thus increasing the number of women on the job, then her own achievements will lose value.

Achieving in a man’s world, in a world where serious money and power and influence are at stake, confers more prestige than achieving in a woman’s world. The more women in a business or profession the less prestige the job will command.

It might also be that women know that a group with more women will be less efficient and effective than a group that is defined by masculine values.

Women know what it is like to socialize with other women. They know what it is like to work on projects or to attend meetings where most participants are female. If they have any experience with business or even with study groups in school, they probably also know what it is like to work with a group that is predominantly male.

Women might know, better than men do, that women working together do not work as well as men working together.

Again, the local propaganda ministers have been telling everyone that women are more effective leaders and executives than men. They have said that having more women in charge enhances corporate efficiency.

Coupled with the portrayal of corporate men as sexual predators, this cultural meme has been deployed to produce the kind of workplace that feminists would find to be gender equal.

Perhaps, women know better.

Women working together tend to share feelings more than they would when in a world of men. They schmooze more than men do. They seek conversational connections by sharing personal stories more than men do.

In the business world, these characteristically female traits waste valuable time and undermine order and discipline. They are antithetical to the competitive spirit.

Developing a capacity for empathy makes you a weaker competitor. You cannot compete effectively if you feel sorry for the pain you are trying to inflict on your competitor. .

Moreover, once the number of women in a profession reaches a certain point, the profession becomes identified as woman’s work. At that point, it loses prestige. Men start avoiding it, and compensation levels decline.

Over the past few decades this has happened in the psychotherapy industry, and, among others, to the profession of veterinarian.

As it happened, the therapy business has split in two. On the one side you have the more masculine activity of writing prescriptions. This is hard science. It’s pure medical practice.

On the other side are therapists who specialize in care-giving and empathy. They function less as physicians and more as nurses.

Today, psychiatrists often specialize in prescription writing. They have neither the time nor the inclination to converse with their patients. They conduct shortened sessions and charge far more for their time. Theirs is, by far, the most lucrative side of the therapy business.

Psychologists and social workers are now, for the most part, women. They are more nurturing; they emphasize feeling and emotion over strategic thinking and planning. They will feel your pain without telling you what to do to solve the problem that is causing it.

Male psychiatrists tend to offer a cold, hard look at the facts of the case. Women therapists tend to mother their patients.

For all of the propaganda about gender, the evidence continues to suggest that it is anything but a social construct.


anna said...

This data has been changing and you see it most clearly in places where women managers are common. The experience of working for a male or female manager is individual, one likes to work for someone who is fair and respectful and gives credit where it's due. In real life gender isn't the deciding factor any longer, except in opportunity, promotion, duties, responsibilities, that kind of thing. If people want to be with the winner they make a better bet on some man. But as far as working for a woman or a man, attitudes changed with actual experience. The old 'queen bee' data is 50 years old.

It's still a common experience for women to put forth an idea that is adopted but then attributed to some man. It's still common for a woman to be passed over for promotion in favor of a man with fewer qualifications.

Hillary Clinton is a hero for professional women because she does promote women and she is fair and attributes accurately - guys are more likely to take credit for an underlings work, not that it's unheard of among women, it's just not as likely. And she got passed up by a less qualified man when it came to certain party leaders, Kerry and Kennedy for two examples, who backed the new guy. What made that tolerable was that he was also from an underrepresented group, and because after the fact he gave her a top job, but at the time women were quite appalled that we finally had the most qualified candidate and still the party leaders (not all, but a deciding factor) preferred to go with a man.

Empathy is useful to avoid cruelty, as Romney's problem shows, but as far as helping someone through a difficult situation, just identifying with pain isn't that useful - as you have blogged. And when problems are neurological, then meds can be the best treatment. More psychiatrists are now women, who prescribe meds, as far as professional behavior I don't think there is any longer a statistical difference.

It's true that some women undermine other women still, but women are more likely to be undermined by men. But, it's all changing, meaning still slides.

JP said...

Nowhere is this more true than the exciting world of law firms.

But that has more to do with the complete dysfunction in the law firms than anything else.

anna said...

to jp - well said

David Foster said...

"guys are more likely to take credit for an underlings work, not that it's unheard of among women, it's just not as likely"

Taking credit for the work of subordinates, as a general strategy, does not work in any organization that is remotely well-managed. A fundamental task of managers and executives is to get results *from their subordinates* and to develop those subordinates. If the sales manager repeatedly claims to have made all the big sales, or the engineering manager claims to have originated all the good design ideas, then the reaction from his/her manager (assuming that person is not an idiot) will be "So, not much or a manger, are you....maybe you'd be happier going back to being an individual contributor."

The place where credit-grabbing sometimes does work is where done by a "project manager" who has the charter to in some way lead the work of other people but without a formal reporting relationship.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

The data from the study I cited were published very recently. Within the past few months I saw an informal survey done at Tuck Business School at Dartmouth. Approximately 80% of the women in the class said they would prefer to work for a man.

Most of the anecdotal reports I have heard suggest that women get more fair treatment from male managers.

As for Hillary Clinton, she was more qualified than BHO, but, then again, so was everyone else. She had no special qualifications for the Senate and rode her husband's reputation into office. And she had no special qualifications for SOS.

If she had been married to someone else she would never have had the career that she has now.

She might be a hero for professional women, but she does not, all things considered, command very much respect. No one wins respect for suffering more humiliation than other women.

anna said...

I did my dissertation on professional women, there is a difference between what you may think things will be like and actual experience. Even men who have worked for female managers feel positive about working for a woman if their experience was positive. Kids have more sexist attitudes about roles than grown ups with work experience.

You may not respect Hillary but she's one of the most admired and respected women in the world, and at one point that wasn't true. Sure she was married to a man and she followed his career, but how is that different from Megan, who you think should stay working for her husband and taking advantage of his position because she discovered a talent that hadn't been previously evident. Except that Hillary had a law degree and had accomplishments of her own when she married. She was already political and they were a political couple. No one can say what she might have accomplished if she hadn't married Bill. And he hadn't won an office before they married.

You can't have it both ways, if a married woman should follow her husband's lead, love honor and obey, for the sake of their marriage contract, you can't then claim that she didn't accomplish anything on her own because she was married. It's as likely that he owes his success to her as hers to him, and he says so. And if a woman is able to forgive transgressions for the sake of a marriage, you can't then say she's taking advantage of being humiliated. Lots of women disliked her for not leaving him - that was the feminist position at that time.

Hillary didn't suffer more humiliation than any other woman whose husband cheated, it was more public, but it's really the same humiliation. Professional women identified with her, and could see her strength and willingness to keep doing her best.

If you look at the studies on managerial women you'l l find that they earn the respect of their underlings by being fair and by recognizing and promoting talent and hard work. I mean that's what the data says, even if it isn't anecdotal.

anna said...

regarding the study you cite, it doesn't conform with the studies I read. There used to be the old queen bee idea, that a woman makes it to the top and then kills all the other potential queens, but if that were ever true, it isn't any longer. Really that was fifty years ago.

Here's the history - first the women who made it in business started as the woman to the man on the rise, and she'd follow his career, and she didn't marry or have a life outside the business. That was 50's and 60's. Then the only truly top women were widows of great men or daughters, when no son was available.

then, women started working their way up in organizations, in various ways, and a very few managed to get into top managerial positions. All those women in my study made a point of helping other women, only partly because guys were such snakes. Part of it was principled.

For a long time the pay gap between men and women was shrinking and then, maybe ten years ago, it started back the other way.

You can see it most clearly in law jobs, where the women are less likely to become partners, and they earn substantially less. It's also true in academia, at least in some departments.

Where there is most equality is in government jobs when the promotions were at least partly based on test scores, and where women got in early and then hired more women.

That's why I think the study you cite has problems.

anna said...

I looked at the study - here'e the problem - it was with students, not real working women. It's long been shown that experience working with women is what makes the difference, what makes the old sex role stereotypes go away.

David Foster said...

I don't think the study does a very good job of capturing the real dynamics of actual business organizations. An executive in a high-prestige job isn't *just* in a high-prestige job; there are usually extremely difficult operational and political demands that go along with it. If a woman is, say, Director of Marketing Communications for a company, she may be worried about the logistics of the annual sales meeting, for which her group is responsible. She may be worried about the high-flying Product Marketing group which is demanding the right to bypass her organization and deal directly with its own chosen ad agencies and PR firms. She may be furious that IT has yet again screwed up the design for the Customer Portal. etc etc. When she is hiring people, she is likely to be far more concerned about getting someone who can help her deal with these situations than about any danger of another woman who might at some point become a competitor. I don't think telling college students that an imaginary committee is a "high prestige" committee captures this dynamic at all.

david foster said...

"Owner" in the above comment was me. Google changed the way commenters are identified.