This is the season of love, joy and peace. I’m looking at how we achieve real diversity and inclusion in the workplace in that spirit – of peace on earth and good will to men and women. As we celebrate progress in the area of gender balance in the workplace, I continue to focus on obstacles to further progress. I work to reduce factors that make this progress slower than it need be. It’s clear that the fundamental obstacle to diversity is unconscious bias. I usually focus on bias against women – or feminine ways of thinking, doing, working and leading. Today I’m looking at unconscious feelings or mind-sets on both sides (men and women, masculine and feminine).
Women can be resentful and angry at the barriers they face (or faced) in reaching their potential at work. Feeling excluded is frustrating. Facing obstacles that others don’t face can make one give up or harbor anger. I’ve been asked personally if I hate men! I’ve looked deep to see if the scars I suffered in reaching the C-level remain in the form of resentment. I am frustrated that obstacles remain after decades. And I want things to be different. Is that resentment?
It’s hard to disagree that men and women in general have judgments (bias) against women and the feminine style. Sometimes it is relatively benign – as in the form of the “comfort principle,” which can exclude women from circles of power, or unconscious images of leadership, which reflect masculine styles. Sometimes it is very overt. Think of the “Heidi vs. Howard” study, testing responses to an identical resume, some people shown a version bearing a female name and others shown it with a male name. And there are studies of the very different experiences of transgender people who have been both male and female. The trend to do “blind interviews” is a positive effort — that arises out the very fact of bias in hiring.
As women have made progress in spite of these obstacles, some men may, consciously or unconsciously, have fear about their own roles. They may be threatened about holding their jobs or competing with women to achieve their own leadership ambitions. More deeply, men may feel a loss of identity. (A study last year suggested that we cannot “understand this notion of sexual harassment and men’s anger with women” unless we understand what I see as the confusion and loss of identity of men.) It’s not as clear as it once was just what jobs are “men’s jobs” or what “manliness” means. More and more, men are in relationships where the woman has reached a higher rung on the organizational ladder or earns more. The “man of the house” isn’t what it was a few decades ago.
When men feel threatened in their very manhood (because of workplace status, job insecurity or sexual dysfunction), backlash may be inevitable. One study suggests why there is such a wide divide in how men vs. women vote. The author reviews the effect of “fragile masculinity” on voting behavior.
I have sympathy for the challenges of dealing with the changing roles that have resulted, and are resulting, from the progress of women. That doesn’t stop me from being a champion for that progress. To make more progress, maybe both men and women need to look deeply and acknowledge their resentments and fears. This is more easily said than done. Once I have recognized a habit of thought that doesn’t serve me or the world, it has required work, time and even counseling to change it. Habits of thought, as Joe Dispenza shows us, are deeply wired in our minds. Changing them takes intention and effort.
The world and workplace are changing. I believe it is inevitable that women will continue toward equality and parity in the workplace. Some of us are celebrating that. Some of us are frustrated that progress is so slow. Some of us are afraid of these changes and threatened by them. Resentment and fear (often unconscious) make it harder than it needs to be. If we acknowledge these feelings and work to lessen them, we can reach gender balance – and peace between men and women.
Let there be peace on earth! Happy holidays!