Women are nearly 50% of the workforce in the United States, but our workplaces are far from equal.
As easy as it might be to say that leadership from women will likely follow total numbers, there isn’t a lot of evidence that that’s the case.
There were two essays published this week that get into why the glass ceiling is so hard to break. It comes down to the fact that this isn’t a fight that women can win alone.
Here’s Jessica Valenti on traditionally male professions (like politics) that still don’t have very many women represented:
Asking individual women to enter hostile spaces to make them better is really asking women to make men better — and to make men better at women’s own risk. But it shouldn’t be women’s responsibility to fix men or deal with their misogyny. Instead, men should be taking it upon themselves to treat women with respect, and demand their other male colleagues do the same.
And Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s op-ed in The New York Times this week describes a workplace situation that’s all too familiar to many women:
Years ago, while producing the hit TV series “The Shield,” Glen Mazzara noticed that two young female writers were quiet during story meetings. He pulled them aside and encouraged them to speak up more.
Watch what happens when we do, they replied.
Almost every time they started to speak, they were interrupted or shot down before finishing their pitch. When one had a good idea, a male writer would jump in and run with it before she could complete her thought.
Sadly, their experience is not unusual.
The really interesting part of this last story, for me, is not that the women weren’t taken seriously, but that their male manager had never noticed the disparity before. As a woman, that’s where the real issue is. It isn’t about the dumb sexist colleague who shoots me down, it’s about whether the other people in the room notice — and care — that it’s happening. That’s what is going to determine whether women are taken seriously as employees and colleagues.
But this requires that authority figures of all genders be aware, empathetic, and active about keeping really subtle discrimination out of the workplace. And that can be hard! It falls on the shoulders of people who may not be personally affected by the outcome of their choices to mentor and eventually promote women into higher roles. But it really isn’t that hard. And it’s worth what managers will end up getting out of their female employees.
Obviously there will be women who are so stellar and so charismatic that none of this matters, but women aren’t going to get to 50% of leadership roles in the workplace if only the truly exceptional break through.
Let me be clear: This is really depressing. No ambitious woman wants to be told that she’s going to face sexism, and her career trajectory is probably in part based on how empathetic her boss is. And I can’t imagine any man wants to be told that he’s treating his female colleagues unfairly. But it is a factor in the long, slow march toward equality at the top that everyone with a job should think about.
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