Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Myth of Female Solidarity

Sheryl Sandberg has earned an important executive position in an American corporation. As COO of Facebook she has amassed great wealth and power.

And yet, she is alone at the top. She counts as one of the very few women who hold similar positions of executive power in American, or, dare I say, any nation’s corporations.

Looking for new territory to conquer Sandberg has decided to rebrand herself as a feminist heroine. To support her crusade she has written a new book called,  Lean In. It will be published next week.

Sandberg refuses to accept a world where a few women here and there can become corporate honchos. She envisions a brave new world where equality reigns:

A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world.

Sandberg has every right to dream the impossible dream, but there is no reason to believe that enacting her vision would produce a better and more functional world.

Most utopian visions, when translated into reality have produced dystopias.

As Sandberg knows, the problem does not reside in sexism. The problem, if you wish to call it that, resides in motherhood, in the fact that a significant number of women reduce their work load in order to be better mothers.

In a competitive corporate environment, working less can make all the difference between making it to the executive suite and remaining a middle manager.

Of course, feminists have long suggested that if men took over half the housekeeping and parenting responsibilities then everyone would be happy.

Unfortunately, corporate manager of any gender who takes time off will be giving less to the job than will a manager whose spouse assumes most of the responsibility for housework and childrearing.

As  reported on this blog, the phantom egalitarian marriage, where housework is shared equally and where both partners contribute equally to the family treasury is far more likely to end in divorce and to contain abuse.

Sandberg’s message might work for a woman whose has a househusband or who can afford a permanent staff, but otherwise it is impracticable.

For that, among other reasons, women are not rushing out to join Sandberg’s cause. In fact, Michelle Golberg reports, more than a few woman writers have taken vigorous exception to Sandberg’s attempt to become their feminist role model.

Some are happy with their choices to spend more time with their children and believe that Sandberg is disrespecting their decisions. If she has the resources to live her life a certain way, they do not. Some women are offended at Sandberg's suggestion that they sacrifice themselves or their children for a cause.

At Facebook, Sandberg is the only woman on the Board of Directors. Would anything change if half the seats were reserved for women?

But, Sandberg is not the chief executive. If she decides to devote herself to her favorite cause, she will not become one, at Facebook or anywhere. Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! is the CEO and she has famously declared that she is not a feminist.

Speaking of female executives, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher must count among the best. So should Queen Elizabeth I.

Interestingly, both women surrounded themselves with men. Neither of them mentored women who would follow in their footsteps. Would either have been as effective if they had been surrounded by equal numbers of men and women?

Look at it this way. Many professions and careers are divided along gender lines. Nurses, psychotherapists, veterinarians, social workers and teachers tend, more often than not, to be female. Soldiers, techies, FBI agents and business managers tend to be male.

Female dominant professions emphasize caring. They also allow women to have the maximum control over their time. Male dominant professions emphasize teamwork and organization. They are less individual and more group oriented. They are more likely to be organized hierarchically.

Most people recognize that when a profession that had hitherto been male dominant attracts a certain number of women it might reach a tipping point and become a woman’s profession. Over the past few decades this has happened in the world of psychotherapy and in veterinary medicine.

When that happens, the profession’s status and prestige diminish. Then men, who are acutely attuned to their place on a male status hierarchy start avoiding it.

Sandberg notwithstanding, women who rise in corporate hierarchies often sabotage other women who would follow their lead. I have written about this in a previous post.

Yesterday,  Peggy Drexler observed that women who rise to the top in male dominant professions tend actively to undermine younger women. As a result, young women prefer to work for male bosses and to have male mentors.

In Drexler’s words:

This generation of queen bees is no less determined to secure their hard-won places as alpha females. Far from nurturing the growth of younger female talent, they push aside possible competitors by chipping away at their self-confidence or undermining their professional standing. It is a trend thick with irony: The very women who have complained for decades about unequal treatment now perpetuate many of the same problems by turning on their own.

Drexler uses a term that had been concocted by other researchers and calls these women “queen bees.” As analogies go, it doesn’t quite work. The queen bee’s power lies in her fertility. Women who rise to the top in corporate hierarchies seem not to want to draw attention to the fact that they are also women.

How pervasive is the problem? Drexler answers:

A 2011 survey of 1,000 working women by the American Management Association found that 95% of them believed they were undermined by another woman at some point in their careers. According to a 2008 University of Toronto study of nearly 1,800 U.S. employees, women working under female supervisors reported more symptoms of physical and psychological stress than did those working under male supervisors.

Drexler points out, correctly, that women undermine other women in ways that do not seem obvious to men:

What makes these queen bees so effective and aggravating is that they are able to exploit female vulnerabilities that men may not see, using tactics that their male counterparts might never even notice. Like Jane's gossiping about Erin's personal life. Or when Kelly's boss would comment on her outfit: "Who are you trying to impress today?" Or not-so-gently condescend: "Did you take your smart pill today, sweetie?" Their assaults harm careers and leave no fingerprints.

Call it cattiness if you like, but Drexler is highlighting the fact that when women interact with other women the nature of the conversation changes. It becomes girl talk, focusing on appearance, on emotions, on romance, on family and on home.

For whatever the reason, when women talk to other women they talk about matters that are affirm their womanhood.These conversations often exclude men.

At what point, we can ask, does the number of women in a meeting or in a company transform the culture and the conversation? At what point does the conversation become more intimate and personal and less corporate and businesslike. At what point does girl talk threaten the functioning of the business?


Leo G said...

The only equality in the real world, is the equal right to be unique. FULL STOP!

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

Leo G:

We are indeed unique. Each with our own dignity. A feature such as gender does not endow one with superior or even exceptional dignity. To be female is to have a superior responsibility. To be male is to have a subordinate but complementary responsibility. We must recognize each individual, male or female, as unique by virtue of their individual dignity.

This is where feminists, racists, nominally anti-racists, purported civil and human rights leaders all get it wrong! They are asking the wrong questions and demanding the wrong answers. They are fanatics with a cause and motive to profit from exploiting differentials and gradients. That they denigrate individual dignity and devalue human life in the process seems to be inconsequential, which would suggest that it is in fact a feature.

An inconvenient truth about evolutionary fitness is that it does not necessarily apply to a species as a whole, but to select classes of individuals. That is the only understanding which is capable of reconciling the nonsense which pervades our society, up to and including advocating for generational genocide (i.e. abortion) to preserve wealth and welfare.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of female solidarity in leadership, I just heard South Korea just elected its first woman president, from the conservative Grand-National/Saenuri(New Frontier) party. Wikipedia says she was never married, so apparently motherhood need not interfere with leadership for all women.
Park was born on 2 February 1952, in Samdeok-dong of Jung-gu, Daegu, as the first child of Park Chung-hee, the 3rd president of South Korea who served between 1963 and 1979, and Yuk Young-soo. She has a younger brother, Park Ji-man, and a younger sister, Park Seoyeong. Park has never been married.

Imagine facing neighboring North Korea with a 26 year old "supreme leader" dictator with nuclear weapons. Maybe this motherless president can befriend the scared little boy of the north, or maybe she has to be the Iron Lady of the East to keep his toys on his side of the fence?

Anyway, sounds like she'll be too busy to do much immediate mentoring for the ambitious women waiting for her phone call?,_2012

Sam L. said...

Zere iss only VUN Vay to be a Feminisssst! Und zat iss MY vay!

Or so I read the feminist diktat.

Lastango said...

My favorite bit from Drexler's screed is:

"Until top leadership positions are as routinely available to women as they are to men, freezing out the competition will remain a viable survival strategy."

Yup - when we get to the bottom of why professional women attack each other, men are to blame. That's Olympic-level hamster racing!

sestamibi said...

Twenty women in the US Senate now. How do you think this will play out over the next 10-20 years?

Three on the Supreme Court, one of whom thinks we'd be better off if all of them were female, and recommends that other countries not model their constitutions after ours.

The proper number is zero in either case.

Anonymous said...

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but as a woman in a mostly-male environment, I have had the "pleasure" of walking into some meeting rooms where men were deep in conversation about things I wouldn't exactly call virtuous.
I am not one of those women that talk "women stuff," or believe in affirmative action (I believe in meritocracy, and only want to move ahead in the ranks if I am the best suited candidate.)
But I can't help to chime in and ask the readers, can you honestly say that you have never had "man-talk with your work partners (talk about some hotties, going as a sales team to a strip club, geisha bar in Asia...
I am saying this because I don't think it is the right environment for EITHER type of conversation. But I want to offer a preemptive strike to the readers if any "pot wants to call the kettle black..."
If you are thinking about going to the nightclub with your male team members and ogling women, then probably not the time to cry about women bonding in a conference room...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Anon, that's nonsense.

Man-talk is seldom about hotties, esp. if you're married. We talk about work (mostly), TV, sports, stories about work (our own or others') and try to have a laugh.

We never have the depth of concern and intimacy that women have with each other. We regard conversations like that as TMI, and boring to boot.

Somehow, I doubt you've ever heard regular working guys talking together - that's as opposed to the predators that inhabit boardrooms.

Dennis said...

I applaud your idea that you want to be, or see, the best qualified person for the job and your independence of mind. But, I have to agree with herenvardo that the rest is nonsense. In better than 55 plus years of work I am trying to remember how many times, at work, we talked about "hotties" especially if we were married. And that included 20 years in the military. The one conversation that happened when I was a young enlisted guy was when one of the guys insisted his wife had to be a virgin while he seemed to be "deflowering" any woman with whom he associated. Our question to him was, "How can you expect something that you are not willing to give yourself?"
Interesting that most conversations were about work, sports et al with the men I worked. Now, for some reason, many of the women, and I am a male, told me things about their marriages and personal life I had no desire to know. They knew it would never go any further and that I would just ask questions to allow them to work towards a solution to what was on their mind.
Though a lot of women's conversations were about other women and they were not always couched in a positive terms. Most of us men are good decent people and are not represented by, as herenvardo states, "the predators in the boardroom."

Anonymous said...

anon and Herenvardo - thanks.
I agree. I should have clarified that most men (and most women) have conversations about work.

In my 25 years of work, I would say this is true 95% of the time, on both sides. That is the point I was trying to make. I have absolutely seen, heard these conversations, had to excuse myself from all-male outings because their next stop was a place that me (the only female) was not going to be comfortable with.) It is absolute truth, not nonsense. I have actually had this conversation with one gentleman coworker who also walked in on such a conversation (they thought they could continue because he was a guy) He told me afterward that because he was a devout Christian, he asked them to stop, and, just because I had left the room, that was no excuse. He said he was fed up with hearing these conversations, and finally spoke up. So I offer that in your case, Anon and Herinvarno, you have a reputation for NOT talking like this, therefor you are not part of conversations like this - that is fantastic!! That is just a hypothesis for why you have never heard it. (Or, it could be more industry/field specific. But I can assure you, it is NOT nonsense I am making up.)
So the only point to be taken is I wanted to caution posters about the pot calling the kettle black. I will admit that there are small portions of both sexes that do those unflattering things that make the rest of us look bad.
I had a board-level boss, a female,who was the best boss I ever had (not because of her gender, but because of her strategy, inspiration, ability to make numbers for our co.) And we never ever talked about girl-stuff.
I have had some amazing male bosses. And, besides this post, I don't categorize them as "the best male or the best female." (I don't care about their gender. That just doesn't come into play for me.) From someone who is growing in career, but thinks feminism is getting in the way in our society, I enjoy most of the topics here...
I enjoy Stuart's blogs, and the debate that goes on here...

Anonymous said...

My wife's theory on women is that the strongest drive in a woman is her need to nurture.

According to my wife, women who accept this natural instinct thrive and those who do not end up basket cases. Women who embrace the role of motherhood tend to be the best adjusted emotionally, assuming they embrace the role and are not just taking three months so they can get back to work, etc.

Per the missus, even those women who work, as noted in the post, tend to end up in occupations or roles that allow them to express their nurturing instinct.

Bilejones said...

The problem with this equality thing is that on average, women's brains are about 10% small than men's.
For women to have the same abilities as men, their brains would have to be different.

They can only be equal by being different.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I'm writing because I have some insider info you might find important.

I happen to be in the financial services industry. I recently got hired at a very well-known firm. At my orientation, every incoming hire was assigned his/her own personal "coach." That's right! To guide them in their career and become a "top executive." Of the ten new hires, nine of the assigned "executive coaches" were women! Females!

I just thought I wouild give you a heads up. I don't want to frighten you, but women could possibly be taking over the "executive coaching" profession. If you're concerned about your masculinity, you might want to start thinking about a career change now while there's still time.

I WOULD suggest being a "stay-at-home blogger" full time, but alas, I think that reached the tipping point long ago and is thoroughly feminized at this point.

Perhaps it's not too late to become an FBI agent?

Dennis said...


Call me in twenty years and let me know how that worked out. Silly and inane.