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Posts Tagged ‘Center for Work-Life Policy’

“I’m so sorry,” I said to my friend, over and over, every time I put anything into my mouth or even looked at any of the food I’d spent all day preparing for a small, impromptu New Years Eve gathering. She’s a vegetarian, you see, and I’d made somewhere in the vicinity of 14,000 relatively fancy “small bites”… nearly every single one of which contained some sort of seafood. Oh, the other thing? This friend–in town for a quick visit and packing in face time with several dozen of her nearest and dearest, some of whom I’d assumed she’d be ringing in the new year with–had texted me while my little festivus was already under way, essentially inviting herself over. She’s fun and spontaneous like that. And I was thrilled to have her! And she totally understood the gastronomic situation. And was as profusely apologetic as I.

…So, why was I apologizing?

Habit, I guess. I mean, I apologized to my dog this morning when I accidentally stepped on her paw, a gesture which was likely wasted, as the only words my she seems to register are “walk” and “kibble.” I say I’m sorry when I mean “excuse me.” I say I’m sorry when I mean “What? I didn’t catch that.” I say I’m sorry when someone bumps into me. I even, on occasion, say I’m sorry when what I really mean is “Screw you.

I suspect I am not alone. Women, after all, are notorious “hedgers.” And I wonder: when “I’m sorry” is as reflexive a verbal tic as “um,” what kind of toll does it take? Why are we so quick to cast ourselves the villains? To label ourselves “wrong?” To discount our own perspective? As though this were the proper thing to do? Sometimes an apology is warranted, of course, but when we offer one up without reason, what are we really saying? And what are we really apologizing for? Are we sorry for taking up too much space? For inconveniencing someone else? For being too something, or not something else enough? Or for being, at all?

What are we saying to the world about ourselves, and what are we saying to ourselves about ourselves? And why does it matter?

Interestingly, I got to thinking about the subject not because of the NYE non-incident, but because I was reading yet another item about the lack of women in the C-suite and the corporate inertia around making the changes that would get–and keep–us there, all despite the very real benefits gender balance in the highest ranks has been shown to offer. Caroline Turner writes in the VentureBeat piece:

Both Catalyst and the Center for Work Life Policy divide the causes of women leaving the business world into “pull factors” (like family care) and “push factors,” negative elements about the work environment or job. Two major push factors involve:

  • Acceptance: Women not feeling fully valued or accepted, and
  • Advancement: Women feeling they can’t advance or succeed.

There are two drivers of these feelings:

  • The “comfort principle” and
  • An unconscious preference for how leadership and excellence look.

…The builders of American business were primarily men. They got there first. It is natural that ideas of leadership and excellence have a more masculine than feminine flavor.

Studies show that “leadership” is associated with words that are characteristic of men more often than women. In fact, when women exhibit some of these traits, they are not favorably received. In evaluating a woman, men may find her approach unfamiliar and may judge her style rather than focus on the results she delivers.

Leaders can stop and notice whether previously unconscious preferences are influencing how they evaluate a woman. They can take the time to understand differences in masculine and feminine approaches, and the strengths and limitations of each. Then they can appreciate and value both.

Too reiterate–but not to put too fine a point on it, well, you know, as Turner writes and as we’ve been known to mention from time to time, the corporate world as it exists today was largely conceived and constructed by men. Once women got in the door, we quickly learned that we’d best play along with the boys in charge, do things their way. But that time’s come and gone–women make up half the workforce, and the world has changed. It’s our world, too, and it’s high time we stopped apologizing for our place in it and the way we see it.

Yes, the world is littered with structural inequities, biases, chauvinists and misogyny, but it’s our responsibility to speak up. When we keep quiet to keep the peace, when we apologize for who we are, we discount who we are, our perspective, our needs–all while our power to change things evaporates. And we deprive ourselves, our family, our companies and our world the perspective that is uniquely ours to offer. When instead of asking for what we want or saying that we see things a little differently, we question ourselves or keep quiet–or worse, apologize–what we’re really saying is that we don’t matter.

Does this seem like a stretch? Maybe it does. Maybe it is. But it’s my perspective, and I’m not sorry for sharing it.

But I do still feel kinda bad about the smoked salmon wontons. The fried oysters. The shrimp remoulade… Oh, who am I kidding? No I don’t.

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The other day, one of our Twitter followers sent me a link, with a “What do you think?”-type note. (Using 140 characters or less, natch.) A click landed me on Harvard Business’ blog, and a post entitled “Why Are Women So Unhappy At Work?” The piece (written by a man–just for the record) quotes the findings from an earlier post by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy. In that post, entitled “Are Your Best Female Employees a Flight Risk?” Hewlett writes:

We found that in the wake of last year’s financial crash, high-powered women were more than twice as likely as men–84% compared with 40%–to be seriously thinking jumping ship. And when the head and the heart are out the door, the rest of the body is sure to follow.

Hewlett goes on to cite examples of what various companies are doing in order to keep their ladies on board. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before the subject of passion came up:

Intel created workshops aimed squarely at retaining one of its most at-risk populations: mid-level female engineers. Exit interviews revealed that many of these talented technologists were leaving not to spend time with their family but because they no longer felt challenged by or passionate about their work. In the 21st century, talented people of both sexes often feel stymied by a traditional vertical career path that follows a straight line up a narrow ladder. Rather, they’re interested in and open to lateral moves and a variety of “work style” options, such as flex schedules and telecommuting, as long as these options are intellectually and professionally challenging and/or satisfy personal obligations.

That’s surely a part of it. Now, consider this, from Russell Bishop, via the Huffington Post, still rumbling with riffs on the Paradox of Declining Women’s Happiness study:

The implication seems to be that if you were to gain more in terms of physical world success you would naturally become happier… My theory is that over the past 40 years, as American society exited the “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it to Beaver” mentality of the 50s and 60s, we seem to have increasingly equated success and fulfillment with jobs, career advancement, position title, bank accounts, and other symbols of success. If you were one of those statistical women who took on job, career, or economic goals as your “symbols” of success, you just might have wound up sacrificing what mattered most in hopes of greener pastures at the eother end of job, career or economic goals. What if you won the race to the top: a better job, increased paycheck, more “toys” than the boys? Did you bargain for all that comes with it? Did you anticipate the sacrifices you would have to make to get there? How are those trades looking now?

An interesting take. Going back to the original post, the one our Twitter friend sent, author Sean Silverthorne writes:

Unfortunately, Hewlett doesn’t answer my burning question: Why are women more likely than men to consider jumping ship? Certainly there are career opportunity questions. If women believe they don’t have as good a chance as their male colleagues of advancing, of course they should be considering options. But a 2x factor suggests something much more deep seeded. Something about the nature of work in the modern company.

His post earned a slew of responses, citing reasons for our wandering eyes ranging from discrimination from the good old boys’ clubbers, to a need for more corporate support for work/life balance, to female “dogs in power that insist on running a place like a sorority.” No woman wants to take part in the proverbial workplace pissing contests–and even if she did, she’s not properly equipped. But this comment really made me think:

I also think there’s a fundamentally different paradigm that can exist in female-oriented workplaces and it takes us away from the whole aggressive, money and progress-oriented approach to work–it is collaborative, nurturing, fun approach which while achieving goals and earning a living isn’t centered or structured the same way–it’s like a circle not a hierarchy and goes to the heart of our culture.

Lest you think that sounds a little too kumbaya to actually work, consider these points, enumerated by Hewlett:

  • Research demonstrates that companies with significant numbers of women in management have a much higher return on investment
  • A study has shown that when work teams are split 50-50 between men and women, productivity goes up. Gender balance, the research posits, counters ‘groupthink’–the tendency of homogenous groups to staunchly defend wrong-headed ideas because everyone in the group thinks the same way
  • Another study–out of France–showed that firms in the CAC 40 (the French euivalent of the Dow Jones) with a high ration of women in top management showed better resistance to the financial crisis. The fewer female managers a company has, the greater drop in its share price since January 2008.

So, clearly it behooves everyone to keep women engaged, in the game. But if a whopping 84% of us are thinking exit strategy, what’s the answer?

I kind of think they all touched on a part of it: Hewlett pointed out the need for passion and challenge at work; Bishop noted the inevitable let-down that comes from chasing–and then catching–material things; and Silverthorne offered a tease, earning comments that allude to something deeper, something about the very way in which workplace structures are organized, a la Elizabeth Lesser’s suggestion I first wrote about here:

The conversation we need to have now is no longer about women assuming positions of leadership within the existing power structure, it’s about the power structures themselves, it’s about how to go about assuming power, how to change the structures.

But in order to change them, we’ve got to stick around.

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