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From the covert to the overt everyday sexism is part of all our lives in one form or another. In this second entry in the series we explore the idea of different standards for women.

This is such an interesting proposition.

I suspect men would say ‘not really’, and most women I know would say ‘absolutely’.

So, why the divide, and what possible truth underpins it?

Likely we’ve all read articles and books that purport to guide us in our choices/behaviours and mindsets as women, in the face of more being expected of us, to achieve the same rewards/treatment as men.

Some of the things I hear women say (privately, mostly, to other women):

  • I work twice as hard
  • I take on twice as much work
  • I am faster and more efficient
  • I don’t schmooze the way my male counterparts do
  • I get talked-over in meetings by men with half the knowledge I have
  • I say something, it gets ignored; then, it’s said by a male four minutes later as his own idea
  • I get on and ‘just do it’ – the results should speak for themselves, but often don’t
  • I don’t get the same pay as my male colleagues; when I challenge this, I’m told I don’t do the same job, to the same level, haven’t been in the job as long and/or it’s being reviewed, blah blah blah
  • Men talk with more certainty (even when they aren’t); yet, if I do this I’m described as ‘having balls’ or ‘being too assertive/aggressive’.

I’m sure you have other versions of this or like experiences. The list isn’t meant to be definitive, but, rather, indicative. If any of these ring true for you, I am going to do a full 180 on this and shine the light on you/me; in fact, all the women we know.

  1. We have always done more – because we can (we talk about ‘man the hunter’ but what about ‘woman the gatherer’ – she found 4/5ths of the food required, while caring for kids, the elderly, thatching, beading and talking)
  2. Modern history (ballpark the last 2000 years) saw women sidelined. There was a lot of conditioning for us on our value and contribution; for example, every major theology has a male figurehead – that likely doesn’t help us
  3. The rationalists of the 18th century promoted the notion that if only mankind could put emotion to one side and deal with ‘facts’, then we would progress more rapidly; a major impediment to this was the perceived emotional predisposition of women
  4. Today we know that emotional data informs reason (and vice versa); you can’t make good decisions without responding to how you feel about the facts; better decisions are made if they stack up logically and we feel good about them
  5. Women are slightly more effective at digesting and responding to emotional data, and they are slightly more predisposed to be inclusive and collaborate – so they digest and use emotional information more than their male counterparts
  6. Women are more observant of how others feel (statistically significant). In fact, we are often told we wear our hearts on our sleeves – which may be true, though anatomically impossible; more likely, we are picking up complex emotional cues that others are missing
  7. What male leaders above us might see (and feel more comfortable with) is:
    1. ‘I’ language over ‘we’ – “I’ve made sure an exceptional result was delivered this quarter”
    2. Assertive behaviour that affirms expertise/influence/power
    3. Individuals who make what they do/contribute evident
    4. Height, physical presence, voice
  8. So, what can we do?
    1. Acknowledge to ourselves that we are capable of doing a lot
    2. Recognise that we can do a lot to a high standard, BUT take care not to drive people crazy by over-controlling or setting standards that others can’t sustain
    3. Stop complaining that we do a lot – it’s our choice; celebrate this instead
    4. Recognise that doing more may not be seen by our managers and they can, through no ill will, end up taking this for granted. So… better communicate your contribution: “I have done X”, rather than, “with the help of X and Y we have done Z”. Even if others where involved, if you were the primary driver of an initiative, get comfortable with sentences like, “I’ve achieved x”. If X is a significant initiative, others’ involvement is assumed. Don’t water-down your work because someone else helped.
    5. Consider how we make what we do visible to those above us, or those who can influence our career. Visibility is not boasting or arrogant. Find a way of making visible what you do. Being invisible helps who?
    6. Remember that women value collaboration and inclusion over personal achievement, but men may feel more comfortable or resonate more with what is done by the individual.

It is our differences that will be our strength, not the degree to which each gender adjusts themselves to mitigate difference. Yet, what good is a firework, if no one sees it go bang?

And, in the end, if you need help, we are here.

Hugs,

Fabian

What Dattner Grant can do to help

  1. Gender research – how men and women see working together in your organisation
  2. Leadership education – shifting the way men and women work together
  3. Compass – our national women’s program
  4. Personal coaching
  5. Couples coaching
  6. Participation in Homeward Bound – our global initiative for women in STEMM

Author, Fabian Dattner, Founding Partner Dattner Grant, Co Founder Homeward Bound