If Men are From Mars, How
on Earth Does a Woman Get Promoted?
Gender Bias in Corporate America
by Thomas M. Murphy Esq.
The best-selling book Men Are From Mars - Women Are From Venus is
all about the male-female relationship. Using humor, author John Grey makes
a very important point -- men and women think differently. Sometimes the difference
is so pronounced - one would think men and women come from different planets.
The socialization process, or how we raise boys and girls to become adults,
is not the same for men and women. Boys and girls are taught differently,
are exposed to unique male-female experiences and are treated dissimilarly
by their adult role models. For example, social researchers claim that educational
environments traditionally do little to help girls feel capable of a career
in science, while encouraging boys to study mathematics. Experiences at home
reinforce rather than correct the socialization process at school. Added up
over the first two decades of life, women emerge from childhood with a different
outlook on life, family and career than men.
Grey believes the socialization process for men and women is one reason
they often fail to "connect" with their inter-gender communications. While
Grey's examples are often humorous, these "misconnected" communications can
leave one gender wondering why the other "just doesn't get it." On a more
serious side Grey who is a professional marriage counselor, believes these
misconnections, if left unchecked, can harm the relationship and trust between
a man and a woman.
Grey's observations have implications for the workplace. In a recent study
of executive men and women, the Harwich Group found significant differences
in the perspectives men and women have towards female corporate leaders. Nine
of every ten women cited continued gender barriers towards their advancement
where the majority of men saw little, if any, issue for concern. Is this socialization
Existing national statistics support a view that Corporate America is not
a gender-balanced playing field:
||Women make up half the U.S. workforce
but account for less than four percent of the nation's top executives;
||Despite awarding 54% of graduate
and undergraduate degrees to women, a female manager can expect to earn
68% of a male manager;
||Three of every four women report
having been sexually harassed during their educational or professional career;
||Women managers are clustered into
administrative and support functions. They are more likely to support a
"decision maker" than be a "decision maker".
Narrative comments from participants in the Harwich Study provide further
evidence that working men and women view Corporate America from very different
perspectives. While men, as a whole, do not see gender bias as a serious company
problem, female executives are left angered and mistrustful of their organizations
because of their treatment in the office.
||Supporting Attitude As Expressed By Survey Participant:
|Female professionals are as serious about their careers as
men and resent the suggestion that they are less committed than their male
||"Men still believe women lack what it takes to lead. They
think we are committed first to being a mom or a wife … they don't take
|Female professionals express a high level of frustration
and disdain for senior male management.
||"The men who run my company lack the courage to lead on the
issue of diversity. I was actually told -they weren't sure "how clients
would react to a female black attorney. I was a successful fifteen-year
attorney at the time."
|The more experienced a woman professional is the more likely
she feels impacted by gender discrimination.
||"When I started my career I never felt like a victim of discrimination,
but as I get older I see how the many small subtle differences add up. I'm
happy with my life, but it saddens me to think where my professional career
might have been if I were a man."
|Although female and male professionals agree that the playing
field is not level in terms of opportunity and compensation, men are significantly
less concerned about correcting gender inequity than women.
||"The women in my company are just as capable as the men,
we just aren't paid that way."
|Females express unfairness over a "double-standard" between
men and women in the workplace.
||"Nice men are 'great guys' with super career futures but
being 'nice' as a woman means you're not tough enough for the next job."
|Females strongly resent having to modify their behaviors
to fit into a man's way of thinking.
||"Being friendly gets confused by men in the workplace as
flirting. Even though I work in a professional office environment --- not
an after-hours tavern --- I had to stop being friendly because the men couldn't
tell the difference. I'm a happily married working mom with two children.
Policy Implications for Business:
Not selecting the best person for the job makes little business sense.
Likewise, allowing any artificial barriers in the recruitment, assessment,
development and promotion of professional talent leaves an organization with
less than the best, to say nothing of the illegality of such practice. Here
are a few suggestions that women executives feel need to be done within Corporate
||Show visible senior leadership
on the issue of gender diversity. Leadership must be more than simple lip
service. Link executive pay to the advancement of the best people. Set consequences
for inappropriate behaviors;
||Examine internal human resource
policies and processes to identify artificial barriers of cultural and gender
bias. Replace the 'old boy network' with specific performance objectives,
executive assessment centers and benchmarking against successful organizations;
||Audit human resource results to
ensure gender-free human resource processes. Women do not want quotas or
token placements but believe the objective monitoring of results will identify
artificial barriers to the advancement of the best people;
||Educate senior leadership. Female
executives in the study did not believe gender bias was a conscious decision.
Rather, they viewed it more as a 'socialization' and cultural 'misconnect'.
Gender education, training and the placement of a number of key women in
business critical assignments would open the eyes of senior management;
||Continue to support flexible working
arrangements and family-friendly work environments. Until society changes
its views on women's responsibility to family, companies who promote on
the basis of 'face-time' at the office will not advance its best people;
||Set short- and long-term developmental
goals supported by well-thought out management training, assignment to visible
projects, executive mentoring and exposure of female talent to senior leadership;
||Promote and publicize your successes.
This not only sends a vital signal to the organization, it becomes a competitive
advantage in the retention and recruitment of the best talent.
Men may very well be from Mars but that does not mean women must be relegated
to a career as corporate note-taker. For an organization to effectively compete,
it needs all the talent it can get. Artificial barriers to advancement not
only keeps the best person out of a job, it promotes someone less than the
For complete results of the Harwich Study or take to the survey yourself,
go to www.harwichgroup.com
. All material is free to use, share and apply in your work organization.
We welcome your comments and input.
Tom Murphy is an employment lawyer and President of the Harwich Group. During
his twenty-two years experience in human resources, he has provided management
advice on gender bias to Fortune 500 companies such as Ingersoll-Rand, Dresser
Industries, T.J. Lipton, Union Camp Paper and Automatic Data Processing. He
has been a professor of employment law and currently consults with Rutgers
University's Graduate School of Workplace Studies. Visit www.harwichgroup.com
and contact Tom Murphy by e-mail: Harwich37@aol.com
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