mm192: Women at work: A level playing field at last?

November 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’re still playing catch up with a bulging ideas folder here at L-HC. A recent NYTimes column updates us on the ever-intriguing topic: women in corporate America.

One might ask: why are we still confounded by this? After all, U.S. women began to flood the workplace after the economic shocks of the 1970’s put single income families on the endangered species list. Why would a fact of work life for more than 30 years be cause for comment?

nytimes

By LISA BELKIN  | November 1, 2007 | Life’s Work

DON’T get angry. But do take charge. Be nice. But not too nice. Speak up. But don’t seem like you talk too much. Never, ever dress sexy. Make sure to inspire your colleagues — unless you work in Norway, in which case, focus on delegating instead.

Writing about life and work means receiving a steady stream of research on how women in the workplace are viewed differently from men. These are academic and professional studies, not whimsical online polls, and each time I read one I feel deflated. What are women supposed to do with this information? Transform overnight? And if so, into what? How are we supposed to be assertive, but not, at the same time?

“It’s enough to make you dizzy,” said Ilene H. Lang, the president of Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace. “Women are dizzy, men are dizzy, and we still don’t have a simple straightforward answer as to why there just aren’t enough women in positions of leadership.”

Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Women can’t win.

So, take a look at the balance of this well written story, and then come back for MUDGE‘s take.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Feminine Critique – New York Times

Of course, MUDGE has a story. It’s what blogging is all about, isn’t it? Storytelling?

Some years ago, at an agonizing time in my work life (too much agony because of not much work), to get some cash flow, meager as it was, I took a job as a temporary secretary, a temp.

My first position in this role was one that lasted several cash-flow beneficial months, as an assistant to the VP of training for a mid-size public company.

Interesting role reversal, this, as she and I both had some adjusting to do. Here I was, perhaps five to eight years older, a guy in a position usually filled by a woman. Here she was, a high flying corporate vice president, probably the first women to fill that role at her very traditional organization.

So, to thicken the broth a bit, imagine one of my regular duties, when not keying revisions to PowerPoint training courses on diversity. I was keying revisions to my employer’s Ph.D. dissertation.

The topic: why women in the corporate life find it so challenging.

Did a lot of typing, so I ended up doing a lot of reading. Her thesis: the language of corporate life is male, and so, just to learn the job, just to advance beyond entry level, women need to learn an entirely new language. To act in a way totally foreign to how girls grow up in this country.

So, let’s assume that some times have changed since 1995. That today’s young women entering the workplace have played team sports in greater numbers than their predecessors ever did. Girls in school are not only playing sports, but are excelling in technical courses and the sciences.

It’s a different world than 12 years ago, and maybe it was different then also. My boss’s career melted down very suddenly for reasons that the drones (and this particular drone was back in the temp agency’s pool in mere hours) weren’t made privy to.

Who knows, it could have been political. Who knows, perhaps her boss decided that having her secretary work on her school work during office hours on the office clock was inappropriate. Who knows, maybe she never was able to successfully defend her dissertation; obsolete before she finished.

What MUDGE does know is that for a great many of the intervening years from then to now, he has very cheerfully worked for several different women. Different from men he’s reported to over the years, but not in substantive ways. The foreign language has apparently been learned, at least in the parts of the world MUDGE occupies during his work day.

Maybe sometime in the next few years even MUDGE‘s stolid employer will welcome its first female CEO. Ability won’t be the issue; toughness, quick thinking, the ability to effortlessly work 20 hour days, and a respectable golf game might be.

I’ve worked for good men, and the very scum of the earth. I’ve worked for highly competent leaders, some of whom were women, and some highly competent women in their field who were still learning how to be leaders. They’ll learn.

It’s all good. Beats the temp pool by a mile. By the way, I’ve long been convinced that temp is the natural contraction for contempt.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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