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:
I am surprised by the findings of a recent study showing that single millennial women who are MBA candidates in an elite program feel they must downplay their professional ambitions when in public in order to attract a marriageable male mate. I realize I should not be surprised, given the support for traditional heterosexual relationships reported by voters for Donald Trump in the recent presidential election. Joan C. Williams, writing for the Harvard Business Review, describes the strong feelings about traditional gender roles that still exist in large segments of our society. She explains, “Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place.” With these attitudes still deeply embedded in our society, it is no wonder that many young women feel they have to minimize their goals in public settings.
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.
The spectacle of Senator Elizabeth Warren being silenced by a man in a male-dominated organization—in this case on the floor of the US Senate—was very familiar to many women. And then, as is typical, four men stood up and read aloud the same letter she had been reading—they were not silenced.
I have been irritated for quite some time by constant questions from friends and colleagues about when I am going to retire. Some of them even imply that I am wrong not to be retired already. I love my work and get energy, joy, and satisfaction from it. Why would I want to stop doing what is so life-giving for me?
I am now in my late sixties, and a few years ago I asked my mentor, Edith Whitfield Seashore, for advice about how to deal with these annoying questions. At the time she was still working and in her mid-eighties, and she replied: “When people ask me when I am going to retire, I ask, ‘Isn’t retirement doing what you love?’ When they say yes, I reply, ‘Then I guess I’m retired.’”
I became an active feminist in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the second-wave feminist movement. In some ways, what being a feminist means to me has never changed: being committed to making life better for women—all women. At the same time, my understanding of what feminism means has morphed and evolved over the years and is not the same as in the 1960’s and 1970’s. At that time, we white middle-class second wave feminists thought we were fighting to improve the lives of all women, but we were clueless about the issues of women who were not white, straight, and middle class. This cluelessness inflicted serious damage on the credibility of feminism, for good reason. Some of us, myself included, were slow learners.
“I can’t believe I had to learn about these amazing and brilliant women from a movie! Why didn’t we learn about them in school?” lamented an African American friend and colleague. I felt the same way when I saw the movie Hidden Figures, a true story about the African American female mathematicians, scientists, and engineers who worked at NASA in the early days of the space program in the mid-twentieth century. They pushed against humiliations inside and outside their workplace, including racial segregation in their schools, dining rooms, bathrooms, and work spaces. They worked with lesser titles and large pay inequities to perform calculations of orbital trajectories and to solve engineering problems, making space travel possible.
Women have enrolled in law school in equal numbers with men in the United States for the last twenty years, and minority enrollment has also steadily increased during this period. Recent studies, compiled into a series of articles by New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson show both good news and bad news about the current status of women and minorities in law firms.
Olson reports good news based on a study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). This study shows that women and minorities made small gains in 2016:
- Women made up 22.13 percent of partners, up from 21.46 percent in 2015.
I am the dominant earner in my household. My wonderful life partner/spouse of 25 years is a talented artist. I am a successful consultant, and consultants generally make more than artists in our society. My life partner and I have always been fine with our financial relationship, but I remember when his father was still alive and would yell into the phone from the background, “Tell that bum to get a job!” He could not stand it that I made more money than his son. This lack of moral support was very painful for us both, especially for my partner. We were trying to stay grounded in the choices that made sense for us in the face of societal attitudes about acceptable gender roles—and this was sometimes difficult.
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.