Saturday, December 20, 2014

Women on the Job

If Joanne Lipman is right, women who enter the workplace do not adapt easily to the prevailing masculine ethos. Shockingly, they do not act like ersatz men; they act like women.

This does not make them less equal, Lipman suggests, but it does mean that men must accommodate their difference.

Lipman argues that women’s womanly behaviors—real or assumed-- cause them to lose out on business opportunities, to be paid less and to have fewer promotions.

Of course, this assumes that women want exactly the same thing as men want. It assumes that women, who Lipman says have different cultural habits, want to follow exactly the same life plan as men. If women's normal cultural habits are more valuable somewhere other than the workplace, perhaps women choose to invest more of their time and energy elsewhere.

Lipman fails to respect women's choices. And she believes that women should not to be penalized for making choices that value home over the job.

If a woman, Lipman explains, wants to extra time off or refuses certain assignments because she wants to spend more time with her children, companies should accommodate her preference.

But, will a woman who takes more time off to care for her children be as respected as workers who do not? It does not seem unreasonable to conclude that a woman who takes more personal time is seen as less dedicated to her job, and thus less apt to provide leadership?

Life is about trade-offs. A woman who believes that her presence in the home is crucial for her children should not complain about the fact that she loses out on a promotion to someone who has not done the same.

Besides, people respect leaders whose decisions are assumed to be what are best for the company. If your staff starts thinking that you have divided loyalties and that your decisions might have something to do with your personal life, they will be less apt to respect your leadership.

Lipman does not recognize this possibility. In fact, she believes that the real consequences that obtain when a woman acts like a woman on the job are the fault of men… or stereotyping and privileging.

To her mind, when women do not advance in their careers, men are at fault.

She never considers the possibility that women do not, at the end of the day, rise up the corporate hierarchy because they do not sell themselves as completely to the job as men do.

She does not, in other words, respect women’s choices. She argues that  women want exactly the same thing that men want and that they should be given it, regardless of whether or not they have earned it.

Beyond the fact that it is riddled with contradictions, Lipman’s article is an extended and disagreeable exercise in male bashing.

Naturally, she denies it categorically:

The point isn’t to blame men. In my view, there has been way too much man-shaming as it is. My aim instead is to demystify women.

But then, she goes on to blame men. Women want to be considered as equals in the workplace, but their habits are different. Since their feminine habits do not align with the workplace culture, Lipman wants men to adopt. If men do not do as she is telling them to do, women's lack of success is their fault.

This means that men are to blame for women’s cultural habits.  

In Lipman’s words:

I am convinced that women don’t need more advice. Men do.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love men. I’ve spent my career as a journalist at publications read primarily by men. All my mentors were men. And most professional men I’ve encountered truly believe that they are unbiased.

That said, they are often clueless about the myriad ways in which they misread women in the workplace every day. Not intentionally. But wow. They misunderstand us, they unwittingly belittle us, they do something that they think is nice that instead just makes us mad. And those are the good ones.

In short, men could use a career guide—about women. So I set out to discover what frustrates and perplexes professional men about the women they work with. My goal was to get to the bottom of issues that men face every day: why women often don’t speak up at meetings, why they can seem tentative when they do speak up, why there are so few qualified women in the management pipeline despite good-faith efforts to recruit them.

We are happy to know that Lipman loves men. We are happier to know that she owes them her professional success.

Yet, she has a funny way of showing her gratitude.

It’s one thing to be an equal. It’s quite another to ask for special consideration because you cannot adapt to the ambient culture.

Lipman argues that when women are reminded that they are women their performance suffers. The reason, she believes, is that women are stereotyped as less capable than men.

The thought is strange, because how many women do you know who manage, when they walk into the workplace, to forget that they are women.

Doesn’t this also suggest that if a man and a woman are competing for a promotion, the man can undermine his female competitor by reminding her that she is a woman?

By now, most men are cognizant of the dangers entailed by sexual harassment, so they have adopted more subtle, more polite and more courteous ways of treating women like women.

When Lipman argues that men must give special consideration to women, doesn’t this enforce what she calls a stereotype? If so, her argument crumbles.

Lipman explains:

A lot of this stuff seems innocent, but research tells us that just reminding women of stereotypes undermines their cognitive performance and confidence.

In a 1999 Harvard study of 46 undergraduate Asian women, researcher Margaret Shih asked some of the participants questions that highlighted their gender, such as whether they preferred co-ed or single-sex dormitory floors. She then gave all of the young women a 12-problem math quiz. Those who had been reminded of their gender solved an average of just 43% of the questions—six percentage points below the performance of a control group that had been primed with neutral questions (and 11 percentage points less than women reminded of their Asian heritage).

In most cases, when people talk about stereotypes, they mean that gender is a social construct. And yet, Lipman is saying that women are so fundamentally womanly that they cannot act like men, even when they are told to do so. If that is true, womanliness is essential, not incidental.

As for the notion of privilege, those who traffic in this concept assume that it is fundamentally unjust to privilege one group as against another.

But, don’t groups garner different reputations for different levels of success in the world. If one assumes that a male is more likely to be a great military commander, that might have something to do with the  fact that all of the great military commanders have been men.

One suspects that nearly all of the bad military commanders have been men too.

As for the question of whether armies would do better if they were commanded by women, there’s an easy way to find out. Promote more women, add more women at all levels of the armed forces and see what happens.

If the armies do better, then all past humans have made a grievous mistake. If they do not, if the presence of women proves to be too much of a distraction, if the presence of women promotes what is gingerly called fraternization and leads to the dismissal of a large percentage of the officer corps, then perhaps it was not such a good idea.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Okay, so Lipman claims men don't understand women. We "make them mad." And these are the "good ones."

Therefore, it stands to reason that women are infinitely complex in a number of different ways. And men don't get that. And women don't like that men don't get that. If women could somehow work with women and not have to worry about this signaling/language/sensibility conundrum, all would be well with the world... at least for woman's world in business.

I think I'm explaining Lipman's argument so far.

So I invite you to try an experiment at a Christmas family function this year. The only constraint I'd place is that you not try this with a man-hating woman, as it spoils the experiment. Just try it with your "normal" run-of-the-mill sister, niece, daughter-in-law, etc. of childbearing age, who is at least one year out of college and is (or was) in the workforce. The experiment is a very simple question: "Would you rather work for a woman or a man?" We're talking specifically about an owner/boss/manager/supervisor... whomever your subject would directly report to.

I've been doing this for years. The results are universally the same: women prefer to work for men. The reason: it's easier, simpler. The usual explanation goes something like this: "Men say what they mean, and mean what they say." They describe working for a woman as insanely complex, full of agendas, arbitrary, catty, etc. Much more goes unsaid than said. There's a lot of distraction and drama.

What does this say about Lipman's thesis? Not much, at least little in a scientific sense. This is a simple poll. But it does question the thesis that men are clueless and need to understand women better. It would seem that women don't understand other women, either... or at least don't want to work for them.

I'm certainly not saying men couldn't do a better job understanding women. This is not just for efficiency or effectiveness, but seems like a worthwhile relationship-building exercise akin to the Golden Rule. But I don't think men are all that stupid or clueless. Perhaps, in the main, women complicate things and are risk-averse. That would certainly impact career prospects, and happiness along the way. But the idea that it's "the men's fault" seems quite victim-y and simplistic. And it's silly as a matter of policy, creating resentment. The idea that the modern business environment is just a piece of cake for men is ridiculous.

David Foster said...

"In a 1999 Harvard study of 46 undergraduate Asian women, researcher Margaret Shih asked some of the participants questions that highlighted their gender, such as whether they preferred co-ed or single-sex dormitory floors. She then gave all of the young women a 12-problem math quiz. Those who had been reminded of their gender solved an average of just 43% of the questions—six percentage points below the performance of a control group that had been primed with neutral questions (and 11 percentage points less than women reminded of their Asian heritage)."

There seems to be a real epidemic of social scientists running studies with small sample sizes. I don't think a 46-person sample generates narrow enough confidence limits to conclude that a 6% difference is meaningful.

Sam L. said...

Ever heard of a clique of middle-school or high-school girls? Hierarchial within, arrogant to outsiders; I see Lipman as one of them.

Dennis said...

I would suggest another profession other than the military to experiment on. I have seen far too many young men die because of bad military leaders. These young men are not experiments whose lives are there to take to satisfy someones desire to please feminists.

Why is it that once a woman moves into a field that the men have to adjust? If the woman is there then she needs to meet the requirements of the job If one wants to be equal then one needs to be equal to the job..

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

"I’ve been at countless meetings at various news organizations where a male editor, suggesting a story idea, loudly declares something like: “We need a piece on the drop in gas prices!” A woman, making the same point, might ask hesitantly: “Has anyone noticed that gas prices are falling? Do we know why?"

Actually, I know some extremely successful male executives who would be more likely to use the questioning approach. There are many different individual management styles that can work, and it's not at all clear that gender differences in style are greater than individual differences within genders.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

David, you're spot on. My sense is that it's a matter of positioning on Lipman's part. Men are brusque, arrogant, emergency-oriented, command-and-control types who give orders. She's positioning women as the thoughtful, reflective, let's-get-to-the-heart-of-the-matter type of leader who is often the heroic underdog character in Hollywood movies. Talk about gender stereotypes! We have in Lipman the gallant above-it-all heroine, showing us how American business is run by swaggering troglodytes. Lipman is fighting the oppression of millions of years with her own narrative. As always, it's not "the truth," it's "the narrative" as the truth. What I resent is this tired, perennial argument that's been going on between men and women for millions of years being repackaged by Lipman as something new. I read the Leeters to the Editir in the Wall Street Journal yesterday abou Lioman's original article, and I felt nauseous. The level of self-congratulation among women believing this victim-y thesis is remarkable,