Here’s a newsflash. Women and men are different. This, I realize, is likely not news to you, but an item I came across yesterday might be. The piece in question, “Why Corporate Women Are More Likely to Blow the Whistle” by Maureen Tkacik, appeared on Slate’s DoubleX, and saw me go from zero to completely riled up by the end of the first page. In it, Tkacik talks about “a veritable Davos of Bitches Who Told You So,” including Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins, Brooksley Born–former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who spent three years pushing for derivative regulation only to be shushed by Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers, and Robert Rubin; Sheila Bair, the only government regulator who can credibly claim to have seen the crisis coming; and Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, an SEC attorney who smelled a rat in Bernie Madoff-land, way back in 2004.
Such examples are all the more amazing when you consider not just Who and What these women were speaking out against, but when you consider how few women there are in the position To speak out on such issues in the first place. But back to Watkins, who, post-Enrongate, was named one of Time magazine’s 2002 “People of the Year.” At that time, when asked whether she thought women were somehow more ethical than men, Watkins said no. But it seems that, with the passage of seven years, came a change of heart. And perhaps a willingness to claim la difference. Tkacik writes:
She thinks women are more likely to blow the whistle than men, for reasons that have as much to do with nature as with nurture…. Watkins became convinced whistle-blowing was one of the few types of “risk” that come more naturally to women after meeting Judy Rosener, best known for a somewhat controversial 1990 Harvard Business Review article that encouraged working women to stop imitating men and embrace a “women’s way of leading.”
Now, it’s long been believed that, in the battle of the sexes, men are the natural-born risk takers. But, according to Rosener, it depends on what kind of risk we’re talking about: one, which one takes with the encouragement of an audience (think Deal or No Deal… or shortsighted shareholders) is where men tend to excel. The other, which Rosener calls “moral risk” is the kind that one takes in spite of the audience’s disapproval. And that kind is where women excel. Tkacik continues, saying:
In addition, when women see wrongdoing, they try to fix it within their own organizations. Men, by contrast, tend to alert the media–even though women whistleblowers are the ones more often portrayed as opportunistic “media darlings” chasing Erin Brokovichian adulation.
So yes, in that respect, women are often damned if we do, and damed if we don’t. But that’s not my point (today). Today, my point is this: plotted against a timeline of the modern workplace, women are relatively new to the game. And it made sense that, upon our initial entree, our strategy was to blend in, to play like the boys, even to look like them (one word: shoulderpads). We downplayed our differences, fearing that, if the men smelled fear, insecurity, or Chanel #5, we’d be at an immediate disadvantage. Or maybe kicked out of the club for good. But it seems to me that every time we choose not to own our womanness — and all the differences (like the willingness to blow the proverbial whistle and the tendency to be discreet about it, all despite the fact that we’ll likely be vilified for it) inherent to that womanness — we do ourselves and our gender as a whole a disservice. Several months ago, I came across this interview with Elizabeth Lesser, founder of the Omega Institute, which really gets to the core of the issue. Among other things, Lesser considers how Hillary Clinton’s reluctance to have a “Gender” speech on par with Obama’s “Race” speech — a legacy of the early working woman’s Pretend You’re One of the Boys mantra, perhaps — as a significant factor in her undoing. (On the other hand, look at the treatment Sotomayor received for being forthright on the subject, and who can blame Madame Secretary?) When asked about the recent formation of Omega’s Women’s Institute, Lesser says:
We’ve had centuries of power and leadership where men have been at the helm. There’s some real serious gaps in representation in the world. And also the world’s in trouble. What would happen if women became empowered and could lead from their core basic values? Not just let’s put women into a structure that is about up-down power, like I have power over you. But what if women could actually influence the way power was wielded in the world, from a core feminine place. … 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.
Which leads us right back to Rosener’s words about embracing a “women’s way of leading,” nearly twenty years old, and still, so much easier said than done. And she and Lesser are talking about change on the macro level. But I think it’s relevant on the personal level, as well. Because it’s a choice — and maybe acknowledging who we really are and where we’re really coming from is one way to make every other decision we face just a little bit easier.