Emerging Female Leadership

Tina Brown, of the New York Times, writes that “a new paradigm of female leadership is emerging.” She notes these recent examples:

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand responded immediately to the mass shooting of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, by donning a hijab, or headscarf, in solidarity with her country’s Muslim citizens and passing legislation to ban the ownership and purchase of assault weapons in her country within one week of the shooting. Women all over New Zealand followed her example and wore headscarves. Brown notes that Ardern became “an iconic image of global humanity.”
  • Several countries, from Georgia to Ethiopia, have recently elected their first female presidents.
  • Women now lead in industries where previous leaders have been all men. For example:
    • Women have the top jobs at both the New York Stock Exchange and at Nasdaq.
    • Kathy Warden is now the CEO of Northrop Grumman.
    • Four out of five of the biggest defense companies in the United States are now headed by women.
    • Chicago just elected its first black female mayor.
  • Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the Georgia gubernatorial race and is a Democratic leading light, just rejected the idea of running for vice president by announcing, “You don’t run for second place.”
  • Forty-two new women were sworn into the United States Congress, bringing brilliance and passion.
  • Nancy Pelosi, mother of five and grandmother of nine, runs circles around the president and keeps her diverse and fractious House Democratic Caucus together and strategically focused.

Brown goes on to note that “women have accumulated rich ways of knowing that until recently were dismissed in male circles of power.” She reflects that as women step into new roles, that wisdom is emerging.

Michelle Cottle cautions us to not buy into stereotypes of women in politics as being more collaborative and less ambitious than men. She cites two resources: one is an article written by Jennifer Lawless, a professor at the University of Virginia and expert on women in politics, and the other is a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Both sources do not support the hypothesis that women are more willing to compromise in politics. Cottle notes that while women bring fresh perspectives and different priorities and work styles, it is dangerous to have unrealistic expectations of women. In fact, we sometimes need female leaders who can be tough, unyielding, ambitious, and compassionate, like Nancy Pelosi and Jacinda Ardern, to tackle the complex problems facing our world.

Let’s celebrate these examples of emerging female leaders.


Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

Four Ways to Prepare Girls to Compete in the Workplace

I recently met with a coaching client who I had not seen for a year or more. I was surprised to find that she was still struggling with the same question we had last discussed—what she wants to do next in her career. She is in her late thirties and has multiple professional degrees and considerable work experience. When I asked her what actions she had taken to find her next role or position since we last met, she responded that she had found a position on the internet that interested her but had not applied because she did not feel qualified for it. She also reported that some opportunities for research grants had come her way, but she did not feel qualified or prepared to accept them. I looked at her for a moment in silence trying to mentally organize an appropriate response, and she said, “I know. Men wouldn’t worry about these things. They would just assume they were qualified.” I exhaled and agreed with her.

In fact, research shows that women typically feel they are not qualified or ready for positions and promotions that men with less experience don’t hesitate to apply for. While some describe this as a confidence problem for women, I have never felt comfortable with that explanation. For this reason, I was interested in a report by Lisa Damour in the New York Times in which she explores a potential rationale:

From elementary school through college, girls are more disciplined about their schoolwork than boys; they study harder and get better grades. . . . And yet, men nonetheless hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.

What if those same habits that propel girls to the top of their class—their hyperconscientiousness about schoolwork—also hold them back in the work force?

The author, a psychologist who works with teenagers, shares that parents routinely notice that their sons do only the minimum amount of schoolwork necessary to get by while their daughters “don’t stop until they’ve polished each assignment to a high shine and rewritten their notes with color-coded precision.” Damour suggests that perhaps the experience boys have of succeeding in school with minimal effort is crucial to developing confidence that serves them in the workplace. Perhaps the experience girls have of overpreparing and being hyperconscientious in school is getting in their way later in life. Maybe they need to know that they can succeed without overpreparing and being perfect.

What can parents and teachers do to help girls prepare for the future? The author offers several suggestions:

  1. Help girls learn to do a little bit less and focus on economy of effort.
  2. Help girls take pride in how much they already know. One way to measure knowledge before studying is to take sample tests to see where their knowledge gaps may be so they know how much work they really need to do—or don’t need to do.
  3. When a girl with a high A average turns in extra work for extra credit, encourage her to consider that the extra credit isn’t needed.
  4. Affirm for girls that feeling some anxiety about school is normal and healthy, but too much stress is unsustainable and unhealthy. The difference between earning a 91 and 99 might mean some time to relax and have fun. She will still get an A.

Damour acknowledges that women are being kept out of top jobs for plenty of reasons besides their lack of confidence, such as gender bias, sexual harassment, and double binds. But perhaps we can help girls arrive in the workplace without the additional pressure they put on themselves to be perfect.

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash.

New Approaches to Ending Harassment in Economics and Science

Exciting breakthroughs are happening in both policy initiatives and research findings that may lead to real changes in access to opportunity for women and minorities in the fields of economics and science. Starting with the field of economics, Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley of the New York Times report that Ben Bernanke, the current president of the American Economic Association (AEA), has acknowledged that “unfortunately, [the field of economics has] a reputation for hostility toward women and minorities.” This acknowledgment is a big deal because leaders at the highest levels will have to be the ones to make and implement real change. Janet Yellen, next year’s president of the AEA, agrees that change is needed. Casselman and Tankersley note that economics has had a diversity problem for a long time:

  • Only about a third of economics doctorates went to women, and the gender gap is wider at senior levels.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities are also underrepresented.
  • Barely 10 percent of tenured finance professors and 16 percent of tenure-track faculty are women in an AEA branch in Atlanta.

Casselman and Tankersley note in another article that a recent survey jolted Bernanke and the AEA into taking action. The authors report that a far-reaching survey conducted by the AEA involving 9,000 current and past members, both women and men, found an alarming rate of discrimination and harassment:

  • Half of the women reported being treated unfairly because of their sex compared to 3 percent of men.
  • Half of the women avoided speaking at a conference to guard against harassment or “disrespectful treatment.”
  • Hundreds of female economists say they have been stalked, touched inappropriately, or sexually assaulted. Overall, one in five reported being subjected to unwanted sexual advances.

As a result of this survey, the AEA has appointed an ombudsman empowered to investigate and establish professional consequences for those found to violate a new antiharassment code. This structural change is significant because until now, women and men in economics experiencing harassment and discrimination had nowhere to go to report it except to their own institutions, which have a vested interest in protecting those in powerful positions. Professional sanctions, including the loss of prestigious awards, will be made public if misbehavior is established—an important step in holding powerful people accountable.

The AEA survey also found high levels of alienation among black economists who have long felt their ideas are dismissed. Gay and lesbian economists were also far more likely to report discrimination and disrespect than their straight colleagues.

Other recent research by Alice Wu and, separately, Heather Sarsons found that women in economics face a toxic culture of discrimination in hiring, publications, and promotion. Sarsons’s research specifically found that women get less credit for work they do with male colleagues.

Switching now to the field of science, Amy Harmon writes that in 2018, the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), France Córdova, decided that “enough is enough” after she kept learning of yet another male scientist whose work she supported with public funds had sexually harassed a student, staff member, or colleague. Córdova, a woman who controls a $5 billion research budget, put in place a new sexual harassment policy that makes structural changes that could increase the number of female scientists in senior faculty positions. Specifically, institutions that accept an NSF grant must now go through this process:

  • They must notify the NSF of any finding related to harassment by the leading scientist working on the grant.
  • In case they do not report it, individuals may now report harassment directly to the NSF, which may conduct its own investigation; this is crucial if real accountability is to occur.

Both individuals and institutions face the possibility of losing coveted funds if sexual harassment is not reported, responded to with appropriate consequences, or stopped.

The fact that Córdova’s new policy was put in place by a woman in this #MeToo moment is not an accident. Córdova, 71, reports being sexually harassed herself as a graduate student by a professor. As Córdova and a few other senior female scientists have listened to stories from younger scientists in the context of the #MeToo movement and reviewed recent research on gender discrimination in science, they came to realize that the problem they thought would be a thing of the past is still widespread. Recent studies document that gender bias in science favors male scientists in hiring, salary, start-up funds for laboratories, credit for authorships, letters of recommendation, and invitations to speak at universities and on conference panels (a.k.a. “manels”).

Harmon says that a major report on harassment in science, published in 2018, offers a new term, “gender harassment,” defined as “verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status.” Carol Greider, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins, notes that gender harassment may explain as much or more than sexual harassment when it comes to what drives women out of the field. She states, “We’ve been talking about the ‘leaky pipeline’ for years, and this may turn out to be the big gushing hole” that drains women and minorities from the field.

In summary, new sexual harassment policies in economics and science that include multiple reporting channels, professional consequences, and transparency for bad behavior may finally result in change. New research and the #MeToo movement is increasing awareness and motivation to bring about change.


Photo courtesy of Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash.

Women Pioneers and Heroines: Past and Present

Wyoming is a state with a long history of firsts for women. Sebastian Modak of the New York Times writes that:

  • In 1869, the Wyoming territory guaranteed women the right to vote—51 years before the guarantee of voting rights for women came with the passage of the 19th Amendment.
  • In 1870, Esther Hobart Morris became the country’s first female justice of the peace in Wyoming; Martha Symons became the first female bailiff; Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first female governor of the United States in 1925 in Wyoming.
  • In 2017, Affie Ellis became the first Native American elected to the Wyoming Senate. Ellis said she felt compelled to run for office when she took her daughter to a Senate debate and saw there was only one woman senator. When her daughter asked, “Mom, do they let girls be in the Senate?” she knew she had to run for office.

Nicholas Kristof writes about two present-day heroines for the New York Times. One, Nasrin Sotoudeh, is in Iran, and the other, Loujain al-Hathloul, is in Saudia Arabia. Both women have challenged the barbaric treatment of women in their respective countries:

  • Nasrin Sotoudeh, 55, is a writer and human rights lawyer in Iran who has been sentenced to 38 years in prison plus 148 lashes. Her crime—advocating for the rights of women and abused children as a human rights lawyer and inspiring other activists to speak out and to refuse to wear head scarves as a protest against the oppression of women.
  • Loujain al-Hathloul, 29, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, has undergone months of imprisonment, torture, sexual harassment, water-boarding, and electric shocks. Her crimes—communicating with human rights groups and criticizing the Saudi government’s “guardianship” system, which restricts the movement and independence of all women.

Kristof has suggested that both women be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for confronting tyrants on behalf of women and girls. He implores us to keep awareness of their names and their treatment in the public sphere as this is their only hope for survival and/or release.

Dr. Karen Uhlenbeck, an American, has become the first woman to receive the Abel Prize for mathematics, an award modeled on the Nobel Prize, from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Kenneth Chang writes that Uhlenbeck helped pioneer a field known as geometric analysis and developed techniques commonly used by many mathematicians. She later worked on gauge theories in the field of physics. Uhlenbeck acknowledges that as part of the pioneering generation of women who were able to get real jobs in academia, she has been a role model for other women. She notes that there were no role models for her and states, “I never felt like one of the guys.” The only influential woman she could find to look up to was on television—Julia Child.

We all owe thanks and gratitude to these role models who inspire and encourage us to take courageous stands for ourselves and for others to make the world a better place.


Photo courtesy of https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/statue-esther-hobart-morris-first-female-92635246?src=library

Google Update: Gender Pay Gaps and Disparities

Google’s pay gaps and disparities have been in the news since employees took matters into their own hands. In 2015, employees informally began collecting their salary data, which was published in 2017. The survey revealed significant gender and race pay disparities. Bryce Covert of the New York Times writes that after denying for years that it had a gender pay gap and refusing to make its pay data public, Google was embarrassed by its employees into instituting an annual pay equity analysis. In March 2019, Google announced the results of this year’s analysis. Covert reports, “It gave most of the raises to adjust for unequal practices to men.” This was a surprise to many. In 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) found that Google had “systematic” disparities, which were described as “quite extreme.” Women at Google cried foul about the new pay analysis and protested that it left out important information:

  • The annual pay review compared only people within the same job categories.
  • Women are “hired into lower-tier and lower-paid positions while men start in higher-level jobs with higher pay brackets.”

In other words, the analysis was not comparing whether women and men were hired in the appropriate job categories. It is a flawed and incomplete analysis. Covert notes that Google continues to refuse to release all of its pay data publicly or to the DOL for analysis, making it difficult to know the real situation with its pay gap. In 2016, President Barack Obama proposed a rule that would require all companies with one hundred or more employees to collect and report pay by race and gender. When President Donald Trump took over the White House, however, he stopped this rule from going into effect. In March 2019, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration had failed to prove its argument that the rule created an undue burden on companies. She ordered the government to move forward with implementing the rule and cleared the way for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to start requiring companies to collect and report their pay data. Google, along with all other employers with more than one hundred employees is now required to fully disclose pay data, and the public will get to see it. Transparency is important if the stubborn pay gap is ever going to be closed. American women who work full time make 20 percent less than men. Some experiences with pay transparency are instructive and encouraging:

  • A study in Denmark found that requiring pay transparency reduced the gender wage gap.
  • A review of British workplace surveys found that pay transparency raised the wages of all employees.
  • Studies in the United States found that pay gaps are smaller in public sector and unionized workplaces where pay scales are available to anyone.

On another front, in November 2018, after twenty thousand Google employees walked off the job to protest sexual harassment policies and practices, Google agreed to stop requiring forced arbitration in sexual harassment and assault cases. Daisuke Wakabayashi of the New York Times writes that in March 2019, Google did away with all forced arbitration agreements and is now dropping the requirement in employment contracts for all employees—including temporary and contract workers. This is a huge victory for the Google employees who banded together to organize the 2018 walkout. But, alas, Google still has a culture that protects high-ranking executives credibly accused of sexual harassment and rewards them with big payouts. Wakabayashi reports that most recently, a shareholder lawsuit revealed that the board of directors of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, agreed to pay as much as $45 million to a top Google executive accused of groping a subordinate. In October 2018, a $90 million payout to a different executive accused of sexual harassment sparked the 2018 walkout. Between federal court rulings requiring pay transparency, employee activism, and shareholder lawsuits, Google may yet be dragged kicking and screaming into becoming an equitable and ethical organization. Let’s not forget though that this is just the tip of the corporate iceberg. These are baby steps—but in the right direction.   Photo courtesy of https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/young-woman-programming-at-her-home-office-gm874016084-244060556]]>

Five Reasons Why It Is Time for Universal Day Care

Did you know that we almost got affordable, high-quality universal day care in the United States in 1971? Katha Pollitt writes in the New York Times that bipartisan legislation, the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971, was passed by both houses of Congress—and vetoed by President Richard Nixon. Nixon’s veto resulted from pressure by the Christian right to resist “communal approaches to child rearing” that would undermine “the family centered approach.” In 1971, the women’s liberation movement was gaining steam and beginning to threaten established gender roles. Nixon was able to prevent a veto override by appealing to an existing hostility toward women working and being mothers and to a fear of communism in our Cold War culture. But as Pollitt notes, times have changed. Most mothers of small children now work (and some always did), and the fear of communism has been replaced by the growing popularity of mixed economy, social democratic welfare states successfully modeled in Western Europe. Pollitt argues that it is time to put affordable, high-quality universal day care at the top of the Democratic Party agenda ahead of proposals for free public education, health care for all, and a living wage. She notes that while these are all important causes, if we cannot afford them all and must choose, universal day care would help the most people and do more to change society for the better. She explains that “only about a third of Americans age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher” (though more would probably try for a degree if it were affordable). By comparison, 86 percent of American women are mothers by the age of 44 and are struggling with access and the cost of day care. Pollitt notes that the lack of stable and affordable day care in the United States creates a crisis for families and has a huge impact on women’s employment:

  • Women who want and need to work and who have partners are often the ones who quit to stay home when day care is not stable or affordable. This lack of stable and affordable day care is a primary reason that women’s workforce participation has stalled and even decreased.
  • When unstable day care arrangements fall apart and women miss work, they can be legally fired. Being fired is economically devastating for their families and especially dire for single mothers.
  • The decision for women to quit working because of day care costs has more implications for a woman’s future than just a lost paycheck: she will have less Social Security in her old age; she will have fewer promotions during her working life, even if she returns to work when the children are older; her skills may become outdated; she will lose professional contacts while she stays home; when a woman stays home, previously egalitarian couples often revert to traditional gender roles, which are maintained even when she goes back to work.
Pollitt argues that now is the time for bold policy agendas, and universal day care should top the list because “It’s good for workers and employers, for communities and families and children.” Specifically, it would do the following:
  1. Create lots of jobs
  2. Alow lots of people to go to work
  3. Raise incomes
  4. Relieve stress and unhappiness
  5. Give children a good start in life
It does seem that now is the time for universal day care. Actually, it is past the time when we should have both affordable, high-quality universal day care and paid family leave in the United States. Caitlyn Collins reminds us that the United States is “the only country in the industrialized world without federally mandated paid maternity leave.” The levels of stress that American families experience is an urgent political issue that requires a political solution. How many people do you know who would benefit? Let us hear from you.   Photo courtesy of https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/kids-playing-with-puzzle-education-concept-gm669922316-122456419 (iStock standard license).]]>

#MeToo Wins for Low-Wage Workers

Low-wage workers, particularly those who are not fluent in English, are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment by supervisors. Jeremy C. Fox, of the Boston Globe, writes about four women who were harassed by the same supervisor at the Atlantic Capes Fisheries in Fall River, Massachusetts, where they worked as shellfish packers. More than five years after the harassment began, with the help of the nonprofit Boston-based workers’ rights organization Justice at Work and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the four workers were awarded a settlement by US District Court Judge Patti B. Saris. Fox explains that the women were subjected to sexual harassment that “left lasting emotional scars” and affected their marriages. Even though each woman complained to human resources about the harassment while it was occurring, managers did nothing to help them. Fox notes that this case is a sign that the #MeToo movement can extend beyond Hollywood and the executive boardroom into factories. A representative of the EEOC, which filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the four women, said this case is significant because it shows employees that, “the agency will take them seriously if they come forward.” One of the four women interviewed by Fox explained that she feels a kinship to all the other women and men who “stood up to say, ‘me too.’” I feel proud of them and of myself. . . . I had the courage to lift my voice.” We should all say thank you to these brave women for being our role models.   Photo courtesy of https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/woman-showing-a-note-with-the-text-me-too-gm866106596-143920055?clarity=false (iStock standard license).]]>

The Truth about 2020 and Suffrage for Black and White Women

Lies versus truth. I keep learning about lies I was taught in school and in my family that whitewashed history to hide the truth of what my country and ancestors did to other people. One thing I have learned from my own life is that if we do not face the truth of what happened in the past, the lie lives within us as a society, family, and individual and becomes toxic. It poisons both our relationship to ourselves and others and prevents growth and healing. For example, while I was growing up as a white person, I was never told these truths in school or at home:

  • Europeans invaded North and South America and enslaved, brutalized, murdered, and stole land from the indigenous people already there. I heard only tales of brave European pioneers.
  • Africans were kidnapped, brutalized, enslaved, and transported to the Americas to provide free labor to enrich European settlers. I heard only that slavery was in the past and had nothing do with us as present-day white people. I did not learn to see the present-day institutions that continue to uphold structural racism today.
  • My grandfather beat my grandmother and his children in brutal rage attacks. He died when I was a baby, and while I was growing up, I heard only that he was a hero to be admired.
In each of these cases, I was told a story that made white people (my grandfather included) sound benevolent and admirable—which was not the truth or the whole story. Neither my schoolbooks nor my family ever mentioned the suffrage movement at all or the passage of the nineteenth amendment. I was well into my twenties when I learned that women had been able to vote for only a few decades. When I learned about the suffrage movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I heard the names of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, both middle-class white women, but I had no idea that black women were also fighting for both the abolition of slavery and the vote and were largely sidelined and marginalized by white middle-class women leaders like Stanton and Anthony. And I had no idea, as explained by Brent Staples of the New York Times, that, in the end, the white middle-class women who had often started out as abolitionists sold out the black women and men also trying to get the right to vote. Staples notes that in order to get the vote, white women, “compromising with white supremacy,” decoupled gender and race and promoted suffrage for only white women—leaving African American women and men shut out of the polls for decades, especially in the Jim Crow South. I am only now learning the names of some amazing African American women who were at the forefront of a struggle for human rights that included the right to vote for African Americans. These women were left almost completely out of History of Woman Suffrage, written by Stanton and Anthony, but here are some of their names:
  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper insisted that white women in the suffrage movement treat black women as equals and deal with their racism. She was ahead of her time in describing intersectionality.
  • Harriet Forten Purvis and Margaretta Forten, sisters, were central players in the staging of the Fifth National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1854.
  • Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was a leader in the Massachusetts suffrage movement.
  • Sarah Parker Remond was a popular speaker on the abolitionist speaker circuit who successfully sued two men in Boston in 1853 for ejecting her from an opera because of her race.
  • Charlotte Rollin was the first black South Carolinian to speak at a national suffrage convention.
  • Ida B. Wells was an influential black activist in the suffrage movement and a successful businesswoman.
  • And many more, including Fannie Barrier Williams, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Susie W. Fountain, and Coralie Franklin Cook to name a few.
I urge you to read about these amazing women. In the meantime, 2020 is going to be celebrated as the one hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage. We need to face the truth that not all women in the United States got the right to vote in 1920. Even a statue commissioned by the City of New York to honor women’s suffrage for the one hundredth anniversary includes only two figures—two white women—Stanton and Anthony. We continue to make black women invisible, and many people of color in this country continue to struggle to get access to the voting booth because of voter suppression efforts aimed at people of color. Let’s tell the truth about 1920—some women did get the right to vote but not everyone. And in the process, white women turned their backs on black women. We need to face this truth, among others, if we are ever going to heal our relationships across the racial divide in this country.   Photo courtesy of 4C~commonswiki on Wikipedia Commons (CC0)]]>

Women Return to Ranching in the West

The numbers of women operating as proprietors of family farms and ranches in the West is steadily increasing. Amy Chozick of the New York Times reports that as of 2012, 14 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States had a female proprietor, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This number is expected to increase as over half of farms and ranches are expected to change hands in the next twenty years. Chozick notes that this is a return to the land for women because “hundreds of years before John Wayne and Gary Cooper gave us the Hollywood version of the American West, with men as the brute, weather-beaten stewards of the land, female ranchers roamed the frontier.” In fact, she points out, indigenous women and the women of tribes like the Navajo and Cheyenne, along with Spanish-Mexican rancheras, tamed the vast fields, hunted with dogs, and raised livestock. Chozick reminds us that European settlers were the ones who brought with them notions of gendered roles that resulted in farms and ranches being owned and inherited only by men. Women are now reclaiming their connection to the land and bringing with them not only physical strength but also new ideas about business practices, animal husbandry, and concerns for the environment. Chozick explains that women are forging new paths in sustainable ranching and humane and ecological livestock management. Many women ranchers also report preferring to run their ranches with all or predominantly female workers, according to Chozick. For example,

  • Caitlyn Taussig of Kremmling, Colorado, runs her family ranch with a “cadre of cowgirls” that includes her mother and sister. She notes that women “treat each other differently. There’s less ego.”
  • Kelsey Ducheneaux of South Dakota raises sustainable beef on land the Lakota Nation has worked for generations. She notes that for Native Americans, the notion of women working the family ranch is a return to the natural order as a matriarchal society.
  • Amy Eller works her family ranch with three generations of Eller women. She notes, “There was just something different, spiritual even, about women working the land together.”
Women now get the opportunity to redefine the role and image of ranchers away from the rugged, individualistic males to collaborative, capable females who are concerned about the environmental impact of farming, and it is inspiring. We know that notions of gender roles die hard, but successful role models like the ones in this story help open pathways for all of us. Photo courtesy of Justin Clark on U]]>

How Women Pay A Price for #MeToo

I remember the 1990s when the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment into the light of day and gave the name sexual harassment to a set of behaviors that were previously undiscussable. Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviors of a sexual nature perpetrated by a powerful person (like a boss) against a less powerful person (like an employee) as an abuse of power. In what was the precursor to the #MeToo movement, after Anita Hill’s testimony about Thomas’s behavior toward her as her boss, women began to speak out, name their abusers, and win big lawsuits against the companies that failed to protect them. Men complained that they had to “walk on eggshells” around the office to ensure they were not wrongfully accused of sexual harassment by female colleagues, especially younger female colleagues. They argued that the best way to protect themselves was to stop mentoring younger women altogether. This was BS, of course—but now it is happening again. Katrin Bennhold of the New York Times reports that many high-powered men at the recent World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland acknowledged concern about the #MeToo movement which, she explains, “has empowered women to speak up about harassment in the workplace.” As was true in the 1990s, these senior men are deciding to reduce their risk by minimizing contact with female employees, thereby depriving women of mentorship, sponsorship, and valuable exposure to influential networks. Two online surveys conducted in 2018 on the effects of #MeToo in the workplace found the following:

  • Almost half of male managers were uncomfortable engaging in one or more common work activities with women, such as working one-on-one or socializing.
  • One in six male managers was uncomfortable mentoring a female colleague.
  • Men reported being afraid of “saying or doing the wrong thing.”
  • Research by Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that two-thirds of male executives hesitate to hold one-on-one meetings with junior women.
Bennhold cites Pat Milligan, a researcher on female leadership at Mercer, as noting that “if we allow this to happen, it will set us back decades. Women have to be sponsored by leaders, and leaders are still mostly men.” We learned some things in the 1990s about how to reduce the risk men felt when working with women and how men can create respectful work relationships with women, thereby ensuring that they will not be accused of sexual harassment. Here are some examples:
  • Education on preventing sexual harassment and assault is important to help men know what is and is not appropriate workplace behavior. This education is especially effective in male-only group settings. Bennhold cites Marc Pritchard of Procter & Gamble as explaining, “Men also need ‘safe spaces’ to air their confusion and concerns about what behavior might qualify as bad. We need something like Lean In circles for men.”
  • Male leaders can meet one-on-one with young female colleagues in a nonthreatening environment by leaving the office door open for meetings, socializing over dinner with multiple colleagues, and not inviting female colleagues to their hotel rooms for meetings when on business travel out of town. These strategies are examples of ways to continue supporting the careers of female colleagues with less risk of misunderstanding for male leaders.
Alexandra Robbins of the New York Times notes that redefining masculinity from toxic to productive is being encouraged on college campuses in some fraternities. Productive masculinity is defined as conscious action to disrupt sexism, racism, and homophobia by men confronting disrespectful behavior in other men, which involves having open conversations with other men about masculinity and developing respectful and platonic relationships with women. In their recent ad addressing toxic masculinity, Gillette explains that they hope to influence the next generation of men to show respect, hold each other accountable for bad behavior, and be role models to show the best in men. Jennifer Wright of Harper’s Bazaar notes that the firestorm unleashed by the two-minute Gillette ad, which many people labeled as a “war on men,” shows how far we have to go. Perhaps senior male leaders in companies can learn from younger men on college campuses about productive masculinity and from Gillette about what respect, accountability, and role modeling look like. We really do know how to do this—but powerful men need to be willing to do things differently. Do you see examples of productive masculinity at work? We would love to hear your stories.   Photo courtesy of thetaxhaven (CC BY 2.0)  ]]>