Why assumptions that women ‘Fall in Love’ at work hinders senior male sponsorship

WomenNobel Laureate Tim Hunt has quite rightly come in for criticism for his comments about his ‘problem with girls in the lab’. But it does unearth a vain assumption about the helplessness of women falling under the spell of their male colleagues. But the bigger problem is that these kinds of assumptions, held by many senior men and women as well, hold women back from networking closely with men or benefiting from their sponsorship. While Hunt is in the firing line, these assumptions are not limited to science. As the Centre for Talent Innovation found in their research on mentoring and sponsorship, a majority of senior men are concerned about obviously helping junior women for fear of it being misconstrued.

For example, the Washington Post recently detailed how common this is in US government. Female and male congressional staffers on the Hill were surveyed by the National Journal about access to their bosses. They found clear evidence, from both male and female staffers, that women were being being barred from spending time one on one, having closed door meetings or even in some cases travelling with their male bosses. Ostensibly, for some male bosses this is to ‘protect’ both parties from any ‘misunderstandings’ and suspicious onlookers. However, as Catherine Rampell wrote in the piece: ‘These rules- which inherently sexualise what should be mundane work interactions – seemed predicated on the premise that either all women are devilish temptresses irresistible to their libidinous bosses or that all women are liars who will fabricate sexual harassment charges at the slightest provocation.’

As in the case of every man and woman who eschews workplace interaction with the opposite sex, it disproportionately limits the careers of women who are more likely to need senior male support to progress. Sensitive and strategic decisions are the most likely kind to be made behind closed doors – an impossibility for a woman to influence if she has to be chaperoned or is excluded. As Rampell explained: ‘No wonder female staffers earn, on average, $6000 less than their male counterparts , a disparity driven by the fact women are underrepresented in senior positions ….which will continue as long as predominantly male bosses insist on never becoming true mentors, confidants and sponsors to women’. The best advice: Create a culture where interactions between men and women are encouraged and discussed as normal. And if that doesn’t work, as Rampell suggests, remind men: “There’s no better way of cultivating suspicions of lechery than announcing to the world you can’t be left alone with a lady’. Certainly, this was the same comment raised by senior people we know after Hunt announced the frequency with which ‘women fall in love with him or he falls in love with them’.

‘Queen Bee’ myth quashed

Mean bossOne of the most commonly asked questions I receive is ‘why are female bosses mean to junior women?’ They’re not – in fact, they are no ‘meaner’ than male bosses. It’s more likely we have higher expectations of ‘nurturing’ behaviour in women than we do of male bosses. In fact, the latest research bears out that women actually do better when they work for companies with a female CEO.

Columbia University looked at top 1500 management teams over a 20 year period and found that when female CEOs were appointed to an organisation, other women were more, rather than less likely to attain other senior positions. Additionally, female CEO’s pay higher wages to all employees, and reduce the gender wage gap to just 1.5%. However, there’s a ‘sting in the tail’ of the Queen Bee. When a woman was appointed to a top job, but not the CEO position, the chances of other women following her into the upper echelon were 50% less.

So what’s going on? After looking at the evidence, the authors concluded women at this second type of organisation are part of an ‘implicit quota’. In The Times, Sian Griffiths explained how the authors felt: ‘While firms gain legitimacy from having women in top management, the value of this legitimacy decreases with each additional woman, whereas the perceived costs, from the perspective of the male majority in top management, increases with each woman.’ In fact, it’s perceived that majority group resistance increases when women (and one could argue any other perceived minority group) grows to even just 20%. In fact, women in senior jobs may indeed themselves be subconsciously accepting this ‘implicit quota’ and therefore any other women who come to the table are a potential threat – which may be where any resistance to other junior women comes from. So, it seems the only person who thinks it’s not enough to have a few tokens at the table are the female CEO’s – the same people we’ve historically maligned as unhelpful Queen Bee’s.

Wilma Mankiller or Harriet Tubman: Who’s your pick for the US Currency Cover Star?

0326toonwasserman copyThe nonprofit group Woman on 20s is running a U.S. campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill. This reminds us of the recent UK controversy when the Bank of England decided to replace Charles Darwin with Jane Austen on the £10 note. It’s disappointing that women and ethnic minorities still haven’t featured on currency in either country – other than the Queen, who is only ‘entitled’ to the honour because she holds a hereditary title.  This campaign highlights a great opportunity as the US will soon be marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

At Female Breadwinners, our vote in the US is for Wilma Mankiller, first female Cherokee chief. Her name alone sends a strong message! It would be poetic justice for her to replace Andrew Jackson, who sponsored  the Indian Removal Act which led to massive Native American genocide. Harriet Tubman would also be a fantastic choice, as one of the earliest American heroes who led escaped slaves to their freedom – under the nose of Abraham Lincoln administration, who sits comfortably on the $5 bill.

So far, being a ‘currency cover star’ has been a ‘boy’s club’, most often politicians. At Female Breadwinners, we applaud this latest campaign but ask: Why should we be satisfied with just one woman? Wouldn’t banknotes featuring more women and ethnic minorities reflect the diversity in each country better? Get involved and vote as every woman on the list is worthy of being celebrated.

Baby coming after this weekend? How new family leave will affect you

dad's sharing parental leave, female breadwinnersOne of our Female Breadwinner readers, Lily Donaldson, helped Money.co.uk write a guide on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) after she missed out on the benefits afforded parents having a child after April 5 of this year. In her article she explains: ‘Until now, partners were entitled to two weeks of standard paternity leave, and while additional paternity leave of 26 weeks was also available, only one in 50 used the additional leave. With the introduction of SPL couples will now be able to share 52 weeks of leave between them when they have a baby or adopt.’

This is a boon for female breadwinners in particular as mothers can share their allowance with their partners and return to work more quickly. Before, mums had to wait until 20 weeks after the child was born before passing leave on to her partner. SP Fathers will still be able to take two weeks of paternity leave straight after the child is born that won’t count towards your SPL entitlement. However, additional paternity leave has been replaced by SPL. Let’s watch this space to see if this enables men to actually take more leave…and for employers to understand that families are raised by more than just mothers.

‘Higher expectations for women’, not ‘work/life balance’ as main barrier to female career success

Women in leadership

According to a recent poll of over 1,800 American adults by Pew Research Centre, most Americans now find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men on compassion and organisation. While that’s a sign of progress, what’s most interesting is instead of blaming that old chestnut of ‘work/life balance issues’, the highest proportion (nearly 40%) point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves.

Recognition of this double standard is a big shift away from continuing to blame work/life balance and a much needed turning point. It’s perhaps not surprising about two-thirds (65%) of women say their gender faces at least ‘some discrimination’ in society today, compared with 48% of men who believe women face some discrimination. It’s promising that nearly half of men agree. Historically, it’s been convenient to blame women’s reproductive choices for their lack of career progress. This research suggests that if both women and men understand the system is biased, we’ll make quicker progress.

Women and even ‘feminine-faced’ men assumed to be poor negotiators

women negotiators

Women’s reticence to negotiate is often blamed for part of the gender pay gap, with naysayers claiming ‘you get what you ask for’. Yet more research shows that stereotypes about women who do attempt to negotiate are often a bigger part of the problem. The Journal of Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes reported that people of both genders were more likely to want to negotiate against women - and even men who had feminine facial features.

This implies women, and even men with more feminine faces, are poor negotiators and therefore more appealing adversaries. The researchers at Cornell University found ‘people were systematically more aggressive to feminine featured faces – they were more demanding and would send in offers that compromised less. The only upside for women? Become a good negotiator and you’ll surprise the other side of the table – who clearly expect less from you.

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