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.

Equitable pay: Women & the curse of low expectations

Equal payUnfortunately it appears pay equity is still a distant dream. European PWN-Paris found in their survey ’Women & Money’  that 75% of professional women are not satisfied with their remuneration, but remain passive on the issue. This means they accept being paid less than they are worth.

Despite 2/3 preparing for year end appraisals (65%), women expected pay rises to coincide with a boss noticing their efforts (44%) and 2/3 didn’t ask for pay raises at all (66%). This is no junior sample either, the average respondent had several degrees, 20 years at a large company in a business function, lived with a partner and had 2 children. Such reticence to discuss money and ask for their worth cripples families as one half (52%) said they out earn their partners. This is in spite of their reported comfort in managing their own finances and asking for equitable pay for others. The majority also perceived that it is easier for men than for women to ask for a pay raise (60%). Women may value friendship but 69% admitted they don’t speak about their salary with friends.

At Female Breadwinners, we encourage companies to standardise pay and conduct internal audits for more equality. Equally women must wake up to the power they have and ask for they want because: ‘No one will ever care about your career more than you do’.

We love this video illustrating what the pay gap means for women.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: Women in ‘geographically clustered’ jobs more likely to divorce

Moving houseSo families are more willing to move for his job, but not hers. A few months ago we highlighted this trend based on evidence that men are more likely to pick jobs that are ‘geographically clustered’ – that is there are fewer places where they can work; a common issue for engineers and oil and gas professionals. But what happens to families who move for her job?

Well it seems it’s a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Alan Benson’s research in the journal Industrial Relations finds that women who move for a spouse’s career and those to who move to advance their own careers are more likely to divorce than women who are in ‘geographically dispersed’ jobs – such as teaching, management, and healthcare.

D & I- Deadly Sin: Failing to use the women’s network as a resource

Women's NetworkD & I – Deadly Sin:  Failing to use the women’s network as a resource. In too many organisations, the women’s network is viewed primarily as needing help or for whom things need to be done for; putting on events and training for example. Instead they should be viewed as a resource for the company. The truth is there is no group better engaged with the topic of women’s progression, your internal culture and the barriers that arise as a result. Plus, they know your product better than anyone else and can give great insight on what an increasingly diverse marketplace demands from services and products.

Truth Time: Product development and marketing teams routinely engage focus groups with would-be customer. Smart D&I professionals should take a leaf out of their book and partner with the network to gain insight on what should be done better internally and how products could better serve an increasingly female client base.

An end to working mother’s guilt?

Working motherHaving a working mother benefits children, particularly daughters, in the long run, according to a new Harvard University study, lead by Professor Kathleen McGinn. A global study of 50,000 adults in 25 developed countries found daughters of working mothers tended to complete more years of education, to be more likely to find employment in superior roles and to earn higher incomes than those of stay-at-home mothers. In fact, as adults those daughters earned 23% more than the daughters of non-working mothers, equating to an average annual income of $35,474 compared to $28, 894. They were also more likely to be in managerial roles (33% vs. 25%.) As McGinn explained: “There is no single policy or practice that can eliminate gender gaps at work and at home. But being raised by a working mother appears to come very close to that. Women raised by a working mother do better in the workplace, and men raised by a working mother contribute more at home.”

According to a New York Times article ‘Mounting evidence of Advantages for Working Mothers’: ‘The effect was strongest in countries in which there was a bigger divide in opinions about the role of women, like the United States and Israel, and in countries where gender attitudes were more conservative, like Russia and Mexico. It was smallest in countries where there was widespread acceptance of working women, like the Nordic countries.’

The Times explained: “Other researchers are less confident that the data has proved such a large effect, because it is difficult to know whether a mother who worked caused her daughter to work, or whether other factors were more influential. “The problem is we don’t know how these mothers differed,” said Raquel Fernandez, an economics professor at New York University who was not involved with the Harvard study but who has also studied the topic. “Was it really her mother working who did this, or was it her mother getting an education?”

Interestingly, the same trend didn’t apply for the sons of working mothers. However, having a working mother still had a lasting influence on sons, because they did more childcare and housework as adults. Indeed, the survey found sons of working mothers spent 7.5 more hours a week on childcare and 25 more minutes on housework than their male counterparts raised by stay at home mothers. If you’re single, we’d encourage you to partner up with the daughter or son of a working woman. The message is clear; being a working mother benefits your children…and the people they will become.

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