The Cost of Success for Women: Perspectives from a Male Ally

After reading a recent article by Sendhil Mullainathan in the New York Times, I understood what my black colleagues mean when they say that having white allies gives them room to breathe. What are allies? The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) offers these helpful definitions:

  • Allies validate and support people who are different from themselves.
  • Allies examine their own prejudices and privileges and are not afraid to look at themselves.
  • Allies act to be part of the solution.
As a white woman, I have spent much of my life thinking and talking and writing about how women need to work together to push for change to improve the lives of women. Mullainathan, a professor at Harvard, writing as a male ally about the part men play in creating challenges for successful women, gives me room to breathe. Even when women manage to buck societal barriers and become successful, Mullainathan reports on the unseen costs of success for women:
  • A recent Swedish study of gender differences found that the divorce rate increased for successful female political candidates, but not for male candidates. The authors acknowledge that this study, like most, focuses only on heterosexual partners.
  • Women who become CEOs divorce at a higher rate than men.
  • Another study found that women who received Oscars in Hollywood for best actress were more likely to divorce, which is not the case for men who won for best actor.
  • When the wife in a couple earns more than her spouse, she spends more time on household chores than her husband and is more likely to end up divorced.
Other researchers concluded that to a significant extent, “women are bringing personal glass ceilings from home to the workplace,” installed by spouses who cannot tolerate their success. The author steps forward as an ally when he notes that if sexism is so widespread among other men, he himself is probably sexist. “Fixing these problems is my responsibility—and the responsibility of other men, too.” He suggests that men need to
  • Engage in introspection and become aware of their attitudes and behaviors
  • Ask questions of the women in their lives and listen to their pain-filled answers
  • Identify behavior changes they can make and encourage other men to do the same
When I read this article, I immediately felt and thought, “I can breathe!”   Photo courtesy of Ryan McGuire (CC 1.0)]]>

How Women Can Create Support from Male Colleagues in the Workplace

Here’s an interesting story that I recently read in the Huffington Post. This real-life experience in the workplace created support from a male supervisor for his female direct report. Their experience developed from an e-mail error that they decided not to correct for a few days for the purpose of learning. Any pair of female/male colleagues could try this kind of experiment to see what happens. Here is the story: One day the male supervisor, Martin, sent an e-mail to a client from the e-mail account that he shared with his female colleague. The client sent a rude and dismissive response, which surprised Martin. This same client had never been rude or dismissive to him in past communications. Then he noticed that, by mistake, he had sent the e-mail to this client using Nicole’s signature. When he told the client that he was Martin, not Nicole, the client became very respectful and receptive to the information Martin had shared. This change in attitude surprised Martin, but not Nicole. They decided to switch their names on e-mail signatures for two weeks to see what would happen. Repeatedly, clients questioned Martin’s knowledge and experience. Martin took twice as long as Nicole to complete client consultations. In the meantime, Nicole, writing as Martin, breezed through her client calls because she did not have to convince clients that she knew what she was doing. Shocked by how clients had treated him during the experiment, Martin realized that, as a man, he has an “invisible advantage.” He then stood up for Nicole to their boss, who had complained that Nicole took too long to resolve client issues. Martin now understands what Nicole often has to deal with and is an ally. Could you use more support at work from your male coworkers? Perhaps you could run a similar experiment for a few days, creating awareness and support from a male colleague or two. As women working in predominantly male environments, we need all the support we can get. If you give this a try, let us know what happens.   Photo courtesy of Highways England. CC by 2.0]]>