Monday, May 21, 2018

Women Networking in Business

In the midst of the current #MeToo moment many people have noticed that weaponizing women in the workplace is not going to help them to get ahead. Why would any senior male executive risk his career and his family in order to mentor a young woman? Especially if she is an attractive young woman? Most people will not say it out loud, but #MeToo will in time damage women’s career prospects.

Before addressing the advice offered by British professor Herminia Ibarra we must also address another assumption, one that we mostly take for granted. Why do we assume that women want to have careers just like men? Why do we imagine that women have the same competitive ambition to rise to the top of the corporate hierarchy? We know, don’t we, that an ambitious woman who achieves corporate fame and glory will become less attractive to men. And we also know that an ambitious man who achieves a high status position will become more attractive to women. We are dealing with likelihoods here, but if a woman has to choose between family and corporate success, she might well choose the former. No one can be all things to all people at all times in all places.

Ibarra says nothing at all about these aspects of the question. Thus, we find her analysis lacking in basic essentials.

Of course, she begins by saying that there are fewer women in power, and thus that there are fewer chances for women to be mentored by other woman. She does not seem to know that many women do not want to be mentored by other women, for reasons that may or may not be evident. 

Women mentors can be decidedly nasty to younger woman, perhaps because the younger women are attracting different types of looks. When a woman reaches a certain age she will find that she will become invisible to men. A woman who has reached this age—it depends almost entirely on hormones—will not feel good to be surrounded by young women who are oozing pheromones and who are monopolizing male gazes.

You might say that mature women should be above it. You would be assuming that the dynamic has nothing to do with biology. If it does, your argument will crumble like a stale cookie.

Besides, how many women in positions of corporate power are assumed to be diversity hires, figureheads who owe their jobs to a quota system? Why be mentored by someone who is not respected within the organization? As long as there are diversity quotas women in positions of authority will be assumed to have parlayed their gender into promotions. This will not make them great mentors. Young women who attach themselves to such senior executives will bear the same stigma.

At a time when the woman who is most honored in American academia owes her lofty jobs to her husband’s name and to her ability to cover up his sexual predations, who failed miserably in the jobs she held, the sense that women are being promoted beyond their abilities hangs over the culture like a shroud.

Ibarra suggests that men and women do not bond because they are not sufficiently alike. Strangely, I had been led to believe that gender is a social construct, thus, that men and women are fundamentally the same. Duh? Now I am told that men and women have divergent interests. And that they choose freely not to participate in the same extracurricular events. Women do not much like to play golf or to hang out in sports bars. Men do not much like going to the ballet.

You might say that women are excluded from social activities where men bounce ideas off of each other, but you might also say that women have better things to do with their time than to hang out in the bar discussing Giancarlo Stanton’s batting average. Discussing sports gins up one's competitive juices. Discussing diaper changes gins them down.

And, of course, as soon as children enter the picture, the answer to this conundrum blares out at us. Women feel obligated and duty bound to spend more time with their children. They want their children to have a home and to have dinner in a timely and organized fashion. That women freely make this choice on a regular basis should be respected, not derided.

Dare we mention that men might be spending more time with their buddies, the better to bond on male terms, because they are deprived of such bonding rituals in today’s new gender neutered workplace. And they might choose to spend more time with their friends after work because they do not want to have to go home and be harassed about doing the dishes or chopping the carrots. Besides, if, as some recent research has suggested, being more at home more of the time tends to ramp up their oxytocin levels—that being the famous cuddle hormone that women possess in greater degree than men—it will make them into weaker competitors.

And Ibarra adds that women have a second circle of friends, mothers of their children’s friends, women from the neighborhood who have nothing to do with work. One notes that these women’s groups, apparently a way for women to bond, tend to exclude men. When a man who had elected to become lead parent went to the playground with his young children, the mothers shunned him. Whatever they wanted to discuss they did not want to discuss it  around him.They have a constitutional right to do so. You might imagine that a group of men hanging out in a bar might not want to discuss certain matters with women around.

We should be talking about opportunity, not outcomes. And we should begin any discussion about women in business with the observation that many women simply do not want to make the sacrifices necessary to produce business success.

As we know, when a woman ascends to lofty heights in business, her husband will often choose to become a stay-at-home parent. This role reversal sounds perfectly reasonable until you consider that the man who adopts this role will be demeaned and condescended to by most other men, especially by the men his wife works with. And he will be humiliated by females who are primary parents.

Children sense this. Male children especially sense when their fathers are diminished. And they might resent it. They might feel angry about it. One thing for sure is that they do not want to show the world that their father has been humiliated. So, they might go out and join a gang in order to become the kind of tough guy that their fathers aren't.

Out in the schoolyard when boys exchange information about what their fathers do, it does not sound very good to say that your father is a housewife. And, it does not count if your mother is a corporate president.


Dan Patterson said...

Very good points.
When women start acting like men, men do not want to be with them.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the good point...

Sam L. said...

Women want careers because feminists tell them they should.
Being, or seeming to be, a diversity hire or a quota-filler, puts Joe Btszflk's (from L'il Abner comics) cloud over a person.

David Foster said...

"competitive ambition to rise to the top of the corporate hierarchy"

It's important to note that very. very few people, of either gender, will rise to the top of the corporate hierarchy, unless we're speaking about *very* small corporations. Bank of America, for example, has 209,000 employees. For the vast majority of people, ultimate success in this corporation (in hierarchical terms) will be branch manager, or maybe region manager, or running a headquarters group focused on analysis of where to open new branches.