When Anger and Outrage Are Useful Emotions

Many of my female coaching clients are told in their performance feedback that they need to be “less emotional” and to “smile more.” This feedback occurs so often that my colleagues and I joke about it when we talk about the unfair feedback that our female clients receive. We often reflect together on the ways that men can express anger in the workplace, but women cannot. Men can bang their fists on the table or yell and they are seen by many as strong and passionate. By contrast, men expect women to be nice and subdued. This is even more of a problem for black women and men who are seen as militant, dangerous, or threatening when they express anger. White women are not seen as threatening or dangerous, but they do make many men uncomfortable when they get angry because they are not conforming to stereotypes of femininity. Unfortunately, these uncomfortable men are sometimes the bosses who give women lower performance ratings and tell them to smile more. Roxane Gay of the New York Times points out how these double standards in expressing anger played out in our last presidential campaign. Bernie Sanders reveled in his anger, “often wagging his finger and raising his voice.” He was seen as passionate and engaged. Donald Trump emerged as the angriest candidate from a large group of angry Republican contenders in the primary. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, had to play by different rules. She could not raise her voice and was attacked as a “nasty woman” by Trump when she asserted strong positions. During her years in public life, she learned to smile a lot while demurely expressing strong opinions—because she had to. More recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell demanded that Senator Elizabeth Warren sit down and stop talking in the Senate when she tried to read a letter expressing strong objections to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. The next day, four men took turns reading the same angry letter without being told to stop talking. Anger is a natural human emotion. Not only is it healthy to express anger, it can also be useful. There are, of course, damaging, violent, and unproductive ways to express anger. I am not advocating for any of those modes of expression, such as destroying property, causing injury to self or others, or name calling that shuts down opportunities for dialogue. Anger can be functional and constructive. Anger is functional when it gives us the energy we need to take an action to right a wrong done to another, to have a difficult conversation, or to stand up for ourselves. Anger can give us the energy to join with others to insist on changes in our organization or community. Anger is fueling a lot of rallies and political action in our country these days. Leaders need to listen when people are angry. Angry people are trying to express strong feelings that deserve to be heard about issues that they care deeply about. In my social justice workshops, I encourage people to tune in to the world around them and find their sense of outrage, or anger, about injustices in society. It is easy to become numb to the things going on around us, to tune them out and sit on the sidelines. We are all busy. Outrage gives us energy to take action. Where is your outrage? What helps you mobilize yourself to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?   Photo courtesy of Molly Adams. CC by 2.0  ]]>

Four Reasons Why Women’s Empowerment Is a National Security Issue

I admit that I got nervous when the Trump transition team demanded that the State Department submit details of programs and jobs dedicated to promoting gender equity. Given Donald J. Trump’s history of demeaning and assaulting women and his sexist behavior during the presidential campaign, it seems quite possible that his administration will pursue the elimination of all funding for women’s empowerment programs in the same way they have planned to defund Planned Parenthood, which will deprive poor women of basic healthcare services. For this reason, I was glad to read the article by Valerie M. Hudson and Dara Kay Cohen, which makes the case for resisting the elimination of these empowerment programs funded by the State Department as an issue of national security for the United States. The US State Department makes small grants to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) all over the world to help make progress in women’s empowerment. The authors offer four reasons why these programs have strategic importance for us here at home and should remain intact:

  1. Reduce member recruitment by terrorist groups. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in West Africa and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan find recruits among frustrated young men. In the regions where they operate, high bride prices on young women establish the young women as chattel to be bought and sold. These high bride prices frustrate young men who cannot afford them, making it easier for terrorists to recruit them. NGOs funded by the State Department are working to abolish bride prices, thereby reducing the population vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. Young men recruited as terrorists could very well end up attacking US interests in many parts of the world.
  2. Create more durable peace agreements. A landmark study by the United Nations found that peace agreements lasted longer and were more stable when women took part in the negotiations. One example of a strategic interest for the United States is to get a stable peace accord in Afghanistan. We need Afghanistan to be stable to help stabilize the region with nuclear-armed Pakistan next door. Once stable, Afghanistan will be able to provide its own security so that it is not dependent on the US military, thereby enabling the United States to withdraw from the region. If there is to be a durable peace agreement for Afghanistan, it would be wise to have both Afghan and American women at the negotiating table.
  3. Stabilize high-conflict regions. More than a decade of research shows that women’s advancement is critical to the stability of countries with a history of ethnic conflict and civil war. When girls are educated and empowered, countries are more stable and secure.
  4. Deal with matters of life, death, and dignity. The State Department makes small grants to NGOs to help women deal with the aftermath of rape during war, to eliminate genital cutting and forced marriage, and to help girls gain access to education. To his credit, President George W. Bush identified “respect for women” as a “nonnegotiable demand of human dignity.”
The Trump administration says it cares about foreign policy with a focus on national security. The authors note, “To build such a foreign policy, women’s rights are an indispensable pillar.” What are your views about continuing to support stability in war-torn areas by empowering women?   This image provided courtesy of ResoluteSupportMedia (CC BY 2.0)  ]]>

Misogyny and Double Standards for Women in Politics and at Work

Misogyny is a difficult and important concept to understand if we are to grasp many of the challenges that women face in politics and in the workplace. One source of confusion is that misogyny is actually an umbrella term that encompasses multiple concepts such as sexism, patriarchy, gender-based oppression, and internalized oppression. Both women and men participate in perpetuating the misogynistic attitudes, behaviors, and practices motivated by hatred or distrust of women. Such concepts are largely unconscious in individuals and often institutionalized in the policies and practices of organizations and societal institutions. I wrote about some post-election examples of misogynistic behaviors in a recent article. Another way to understand misogyny is to consider examples of double standards that women regularly experience. In order to succeed, women are often evaluated against different and harsher standards than are men, as the following examples show.

  • Women are given more negative performance reviews with more negative personality criticisms.
  • Women get interrupted more and then are criticized for not talking more in meetings.
  • Women must walk a tightrope between being effective versus likeable and too feminine versus not feminine enough.
  • Women in academia receive less research funding and less tenure credit for publishing, even though they publish as much as men also on the tenure track.
  • The gender-wage gap persists in most professions in the United States, including for teachers and nurses, for female physicians, and in the financial sector. Maria Tadeo of Bloomberg News reports on a study by the World Economic Forum showing that it will take 170 years to achieve pay equity due to continuing deterioration in progress over the past twelve months.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times writes that we must consider the double standards women face in politics, noting that women are subjected to greater scrutiny than men in politics. He asks us to imagine how Hillary Clinton would have fared in her presidential campaign if she had
  • been married three times with five children by three husbands and referred to her daughter as “a piece of ass”
  • boasted about the size of her vagina during an election debate
  • had less experience in government or the military than any person who had ever become president
  • been caught on tape referring in a degrading way to men’s genitals
  • been accused of sexual assault by more than fifteen people
  • been sued for racial discrimination and retweeted white supremacists
  • filed six bankruptcies and withheld payment from many people who worked for her
I have seen people and organizations change once leaders become aware and support each other. I recently advised an organization trying to be more fair and inclusive to white women and to people of color. After a series of awareness training sessions, the managers began to call each other out about applying double standards when making hiring or promotion decisions. Their decisions became more conscious and intentional, resulting in a significant increase over time in hires and promotions of white women and people of color. Here are actions we can take to effectively change double standards.
  • Join together with other women and men to call out misogynistic behaviors or practices when they occur so that such actions do not remain unconscious.
  • Do not allow misogynistic behavior to be seen as “normal” or “just the way men are” either within yourself or others.
  • Form study groups to read and discuss double standards applied to white women and to people of color.
  • Take action together to recommend changes in your community or organization.
Do you have success stories? Let us hear about them so we can learn from each other.   The image in this post is courtesy of Nguyen Hung Vu (CC BY 2.0)]]>

What Sexism Looks Like in Politics and Life

Examples of sexism are rampant in the United States as demonstrated in our presidential contest, sexual harassment scandals, and other public-sector examples like the gender-wage gap. Let’s be clear—both women and men can hold sexist attitudes about women. Sexist attitudes usually include negative stereotypes that create barriers or unfair double standards for women. I have written about many ways that internalized sexism makes it difficult for women to support strong women leaders in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. Below are some examples of sexist attitudes currently on display. Gail Collins of the New York Times notes several instances of sexism in the current presidential race demonstrated by Trump and his supporters:

  • Yelling. Collins notes that Trump and his supporters complain that Clinton yells too much. Collins also notes that Trump yells all the time. She goes on to explain that voice is a sensitive issue for women, who have learned that for their ideas to get heard, they must speak as assertively as men. Yet messages about the sound of women’s voices being unacceptable in public roles are deeply ingrained in our culture. Collins reflects that not too long ago, no women news anchors were on television because it was thought that no one wanted to hear the news from women’s voices. I remember being told when I was growing up that “women should be seen and not heard.” It seems this message is still operating in the underbelly of our culture.
  • Being Weak. Collins notes that Trump and his surrogates like to describe Clinton as lacking in stamina. Nobody who watched Hillary Clinton as secretary of state can accuse her of lacking stamina. This is sexist code language reflecting a negative stereotype of women being too weak and indecisive to be leaders.
  • Not Looking Presidential. Trump likes to talk about how he looks presidential because he is tough, and that Clinton is not tough and therefore does not look presidential. One of the other criticisms of Clinton has been that she is not feminine or emotional enough. This seems to be a classic double bind and makes me wonder if only men are allowed to be tough.
  • Failure to Smile. Collins notes that Clinton has been roundly criticized for not smiling enough during debates. Really? This is actually a common critique of women in leadership roles in organizations as well. The same criticism is not leveled at male leaders. And besides, how can you communicate toughness (if this is what’s required to be presidential) if you are smiling all the time while talking about very serious matters of global importance?
  • Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland, writes that she endured many of the same sexist criticisms about her appearance that Clinton now endures, including unending criticism about her hair style, for not wearing heels or enough make up, and for wearing too many bracelets. Kennedy Townsend notes that we have no archetype for a powerful woman in our culture and few role models.
Andi Zeisler writes in the New York Times about another expression of sexism in our presidential contest—the use of the B word by Trump and his supporters to describe Hillary Clinton. Zeisler points out that calling a woman a bitch “has long been an effective way to silence women because so many of us have been brought up to believe that remaining likeable to others—even those we ourselves don’t like—is paramount.” She suggests we reframe the word to be positive, using it to mean these traits:
  • Flexing influence
  • Standing up for your beliefs
  • Not acting according to feminine norms and expectations
  • Wanting to win and going for it
  • Rejecting the expectations, assumptions, and double standards that have always dogged women in American politics
In other words, Zeisler suggests that we reframe the term to mean being a strong woman who gets things done. Isn’t this what we need from women leaders and from our president? Count me in. I’m with her. If I am ever called a bitch, I will be proud that my strength is showing. Why are you proud of being a strong woman, or what do you admire about the strong women you know? Let me know in the comments section.   The image in this post is courtesy of businessforward (CC BY-SA 2.0).  ]]>

The “Woman Card”: What Is It?

According to Donald Trump and others on the right like Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Clinton is playing the “woman card.” What does that really mean? Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times explains that the implications are that women, and in particular Hillary Clinton, have some kind of unearned advantage because they are women. Kristof challenges this assumption with the following facts:

  • There has never been a woman president of the United States.
  • Only one-fifth of senators, 20 out of 100, are women.
  • Women earn 92 cents to a male worker’s dollar.
  • A bare 19 percent of corporate board seats are held by women.
  • An assault on a woman happens every nine seconds.
  • Men and women judge women more harshly for the same job application, résumé, or essay when, in several research studies cited by Kristof, the names on the documents are switched from John to Jennifer.
  • In the same studies, salary recommendations for the job applicant with the masculine name were 14 percent higher than for the same applicant with a feminine name.
Kristof notes that these disadvantages for women reflect unconscious bias, which he defines as “a patriarchal attitude that is absorbed and transmitted by men and women alike—which is one reason women often aren’t much help to other women.” I talk about this same dynamic in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, as an example of internalized negative stereotypes that result in women not supporting other women and being harder on each other in the workplace.

Why Do We Need More Women in Politics?

Jill Filipovic of the New York Times suggests that we need more women in elected office. Because of our life experiences as white women and women of color, many elected women:
  • Get more cosponsorship for legislation.
  • Bring more money home to their districts.
  • Focus on priorities such as the need for access to affordable health care, contraception, quality education and low-cost college tuition, living-wage reforms, and criminal justice reforms.
Kristof concludes that if the polls show Clinton leading Trump, it is not because she has a “woman card,” which is less than worthless. He notes that a “woman card” is “like a credit card that isn’t accepted anywhere but carries a $3,000 annual fee.” If Clinton wins the election, it will because of her “experience, policies, temperament and judgment.”   Image credit: FreeImages.com/Julia Freeman-Woolpert]]>

New Research: Work Is Valued Less When Women Do It

Why is the gender gap so persistently stalled at annual median earnings for women of about 20 percent below men’s? It has been 53 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed by the US Congress in 1963, yet women still don’t get equal pay for equal work. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports on several new studies that reveal a core reason for the pay gap—work is valued less when women do it. Miller notes that a number of factors once thought to explain the gender wage gap are no longer true, yet the gap remains. For example:

  • Women now have more education than men.
  • Women have nearly the same amount of work experience as men.
  • Women are equally likely to pursue many high-paying careers.
One of the new studies, coauthored by Paula England of New York University, was conducted using US census data from 1950 to 2000. This research tracked the movement of women in large numbers into previously male-dominated occupations. When the occupation switched from being male dominated to female dominated, the pay declined for the very same jobs men were doing before, even when accounting for education, work experience, skills, race, and geography. For example:
  • When women became designers in large numbers, wages fell 34 percent.
  • When women became biologists, wages dropped 18 percent.
  • When women became housekeepers, waged declined 21 percent.
The reverse was true when an occupation, such as computer programming, attracted more men and switched to being male dominated. Another of the new studies, conducted by Claudia Goldin at Harvard University, shows that women and men are paid differently, even when they do the same job. For example:
  • Female physicians earn 71 percent of what male physicians earn.
  • Female lawyers earn 82 percent of what their male colleagues earn.
In other words, whether women have become the majority in an occupation previously dominated by men or are doing the exact same work as their male colleagues, these studies show that the work is valued less when women are doing it. We also know that there are significant differences by race—women of color are paid less than white women in the same occupations.

What Can Help?

I have shared several possible strategies for closing the gender wage gap in previous posts. In addition, some innovative policies and tools are being introduced at the state level. Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe reports on one exciting new tool introduced by Massachusetts state treasurer Deb Goldberg—an online salary calculator where you can look up the wage gap by sector. The calculator also allows you to send an anonymous e-mail to your employer, encouraging the recipient to download an “Employer Tool Kit” that explains how to close the gender wage gap. The data behind the calculator comes from the US Census, and the wage categories are large. The city of Boston is in the process of collecting actual wage data from city employers, on a voluntary basis, but that data is not yet available. Leung notes that there is power in numbers. Many employers do not report or analyze their wage data by race and gender and do not realize that pay discrepancies may exist. In addition to sending an anonymous e-mail to our employers, urging them to take steps to identify and remedy pay discrepancies in the organization, another step we can take is to elect women to state and federal offices. The record shows that women in government—like state treasurer Deb Goldberg and the US congresswomen who keep unsuccessfully introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act to remedy problems in the 1963 legislation—are committed to closing the gap. It will take action from all of us to close the gender wage gap.   Photo credit: Víctor Santa María from Buenos Aires, Argentina – Suterh Solidario – Víctor Santa María, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23362803]]>

Are Women Candidates Changing Presidential Politics?

It is really significant that two women ran as candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign. Kelly Ditmar, writing for Ms. magazine notes that while Hillary Clinton felt she had to prove that she was “man enough” to be commander in chief in the 2008 campaign, both she and Carly Fiorina ran on their own terms in 2016, “disrupting the images, tactics, and rules of the game that have been determined by men.” Neither woman denied the influence of gender on her experience:

  • Carly Fiorina talked about how being a woman informed her bid for office. She also shared her own battles to overcome sexism in corporate America as an example of her toughness.
  • Hillary Clinton has talked about the “merit” of gender in that it shapes our lived realities and the perspectives we bring to policy making. She has discussed her understanding of the need for paid family leave by sharing her experiences of being a primary caregiver and a working woman. She gives equal attention to the concerns of both women and men in her campaign agenda.
Even though Fiorina dropped out of the race during the primary season, the fact that for awhile two women were running for president representing two different political perspectives may help normalize the image of women in leadership in the future. Both Fiorina and Clinton also influenced the agendas of their parties. Fiorina, responding to Trump’s attacks on her appearance as “unattractive” in his Rolling Stone interview, called women’s attention to how these attacks demeaned women. Clinton has pushed her party to make paid family leave, pay equity and the provision of affordable, quality childcare central to the party agenda. But double standards remain for women candidates. Dittmar notes that Clinton must still confront the double bind of “needing to prove her strength without being characterized as unfeminine or unlikeable.” She was recently characterized by a well-known journalist as unacceptably aggressive for “shouting” during rallies and debates—behavior considered normal for her male opponents. Dittmar also observed that “gender shapes the experience and behavior of each candidate and, like any identity, brings variety and richness to the race. In this respect, every candidate is playing a gender card, women and men alike.” Amen to that.   “Carly Fiorina at NH FITN 2016” by Michael Vadon and “April 14, 2015 – Jones Street Java House in Le Claire, Iowa” by Michael Davidson for Hillary for America are licensed under CC BY 2.0. Both images have been cropped.]]>