women co-workers

The Unbearable Rightness of Being Female

unbearable

The following post quote has been making the rounds in professional circles. It’s from Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevest, an investment firm dedicated to helping women with financial investment (no jargon, no ‘playing’ stocks for sport, no mansplaining, you got this). She’s also the “chair” of Elevate Network, a global professional women’s network. I’m adding this here to make a later point, but it’s important to understand how normalized it’s become for women to create a sexually exclusionary organization for women who will simultaneously complain about men’s sexism for not accommodating their (presumably successful) business culture to the interests of women. More on that later.

I thought I’d riff on this click-bait for, I assume, professional women because I expect we’ll see more of this prefabricated outrage in the coming years as a response to what will undoubtedly be the suffering of the Trump era in America. I’ll be the first to admit I was surprised by Trump’s win, but the denial of the First Female President® into the White House will be the cause du jour for every jilted woman who believes she’s a “professional”. Even if Clinton had won the mainstream would’ve been inundated with how ‘we still have a long way to go’ stories, however, with Trump in the Presidency the same tired narrative of systemic male sexism will get reinvigorated in the coming years.

From, A Letter to young women, in the age of Trump:

When I was your age, I thought it was over. My mother was a feminist, so I wanted to call myself anything but a feminist. And anyway, I seemed pretty welcome at work. Even though it was Wall Street, my analyst class was about a third women. We weren’t just on our way — we’d arrived.

But then…there were the inappropriate pictures left on my desk. The guy miming a sex act when my back was turned. I wasn’t given the great assignments; the more senior woman I worked with was likewise dismissed as “lightweight” (and, lest you think that might have been true, that woman was Safra Catz, now the co-President of Oracle). Then the women started to fall away in their 30s…more in their 40s. But the worst of it, I thought was over.

And now Trump has made it clear to everyone that the battle for us women is not over.

In femopshere there will always be an ‘us’. As I’ve outline in many prior essays, the Sisterhood will always take precedence above religion, politics, personal conviction and even family affiliations for women. Largely this is due to women’s evolved propensity for collectivism among their own sex. In our hunter gatherer beginnings women had an interdependent need for collective support for keeping tribal cohesion as well as child rearing.

This intrasexual collective support has carried over into what’s become the Sisterhood today. If you look at the interactions of young girls and their social group interdependence you begin to see that nascent tribal collectivism naturally come through. In terms of larger societal scope this collectivity becomes about acknowledging a shared experience of an imagined oppression by men. Between all women there is a gestalt understanding of “the plight of women” and a presumption of an endemic sexism no matter how culturally or socioeconomically dissimilar those women are.

As I mentioned, Trump is now a universal icon of that presumption of sexism and oppression. Granted, it could’ve been any man who displaced a woman in the history books, but the fall back presumption is that whoever ‘he’ is, he becomes emblematic of a ready narrative of sexism irrespective of merit. We presume sexism, we presume a guy would mime a sex act behind a woman’s back and leave ‘inappropriate’ pictures on a woman’s desk despite decades of workplace harassment legislation. We believe it because it sounds right; it sounds like something a typical sexist guy would do.

I can’t stop thinking about this and what we can / should do:

Remember that gender bias in the workplace is not a thing of the past. I’m sorry if I didn’t act when I should have. I thought we had left sexism behind us by the time I was in more senior roles. After all, we had complaint hotlines and diversity plans and requirements for diverse slates of candidates for every job. But now I’m remembering one of the members of the senior leadership team who would kiss younger women on the cheek at the beginning of meetings. Creepy, right? I now wonder what was being said when I wasn’t in that room.

What’s creepy is that in spite of years in a professional field that’s been the domain of men she’s just now remembering this fact. Would it have been less creepy if he’d kissed only his age-appropriate women on his leadership team? Professional women’s default presumption is that it is always sexism that is holding them back from breaking through a mythologized ‘glass ceiling’, but as is women’s solipsism, their first thought is that their problems are caused by externalities. Never is there an insight that they may simply lack the skills or that they don’t perform at their peak in a job they were told should be rewarding to them.

Gender biases will never be a thing of the past because to suggest they ever might be so is to presume a default state of egalitarian equality between the sexes. The gender biases in the workplace are most evident in the peer selection and peer evaluations of women – not some secret group of guys getting together in a private office room to expressly talk about a their co-workers’ tits.

As it stands in today’s modern office men are scared shitless every time they are called to cooperate with a woman on work projects for fear of being accused of sexism or harassment:

“In a lawsuit-happy culture, where claims can be made on a ‘he said/she said’ basis, men are now trying to ensure their actions are always covered by a third party witness”

“The terror of being accused of sexual harassment is now so common it has its own term, ‘backlash stress”

There’s a reason HR departments are largely staffed by women, because they want to be positioned in a way that they can execute policy. HR departments no longer exist to serve the company with regards to employees, rather they exist in order to protect that company from lawsuits and enforce feminine-primary conditions in the workplace.

Ask tough questions, and call the guys out when necessary. I recently asked my best guy friend: “Do guys really talk like Donald Trump and Billy Bush behind closed doors?” His response: “No, but…” And the “but” was that the conversations are more along the lines of: “Boy, she has great legs,” or “she’s a looker” or “Whew. Wouldn’t touch her with a ten-foot pole.” When I asked him how he responded to this, he said he didn’t say anything; after all, he has to work with these folks.

But so do we. And breaking us down to our body parts or our appearance dehumanizes us in some way. Maybe it’s only in some small way. But it’s clear that for some years, we (and by we, I mean I) were likely too complacent about the inevitability of gender progress in the workplace and relaxed perhaps just a bit too much.

It’s funny and irreverent when all the girls in the office get together for drinks or a male revue strip show after work, but it’s dehumanizing when men do the same. I’ve known very few men who would ever comment on a woman’s anatomy in a workplace environment. I have known men who would scold other men for staring a little too long at a female co-worker. I have known women to actively flirt with guys and wear inappropriate outfits to get attention from them. I’ve known women who’ve called me and other men I’ve worked with their “work husbands”.

I’ve worked in the liquor and casino promotion businesses for two decades now. I see some pretty wild behavior on the part of women who are not unlike the poor victimized dears Krawcheck describes going to work on Monday mornings.

The modern workplace culture has conditioned men for fear of women thanks largely to strict codes of conduct, but also because these men have been raised from birth to be dutiful Betas and White Knights who look for every opportunity to correct a ‘typical man’ for his sexist and rude behaviors. They look for these backroom boys clubs where women are rated on their looks so as to expose their heinous misogyny and institutionalized sexism, but they are disappointed when they don’t actually find it. So instead they contribute to an atmosphere of fear in some lame form of Beta Game they hope will be recognized and rewarded for by workplace women.

If you’re in a bad work situation, it’s ok to quit. So many women think that it’s a “failure” if you quit your job; and you know how hard we females take failure. But sometimes it’s not us: it’s them.

I recently left the board of a non-profit that I LOVE. I had been on it for years (and years). At nearly every meeting I asked how much we were spending on our investment managers, in comparison to the return we were getting. Meeting after meeting I was told that the answer was complex, it was hard to calculate, it would take a lot of work – and why did it matter anyway? It was really the net returns that matter, regardless of how much we paid for them. And then, last spring, before I could bring up the topic, one of the men did; and all the other guys eagerly agreed with him, that we need to keep an eye on fees because those are really all we can control.

I quit the next week.

Life is too short, and I can have a lot more impact with the week-a-year I get back instead of being ignored in meetings.

I know not everyone is in the position to quit; I wasn’t earlier in my career. So the onus is also on those of us who are more senior to be more supportive of women who leave these situations. I am hopeful that an outcome of this election will be greater understanding of this.

If it had been a woman who’d made the same suggestion would we be hearing about this? Shit like this happens all the time in the workplace. One reason The 48 Laws of Power resonated with men so well is because it was relatable to exactly this kind of situation. Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit for it yourself. Sallie sees this as sexism because it happened to be a guy who pulled it on her, but would she have quit the non-profit had it been a woman who outplayed her?

This is the reality of even the most seemingly benign of companies. They are defined by the interplay of power dynamics, but when women are bested in it the sexism narrative is ready on standby to comfort and explain their failure. So it becomes OK to quit, because the environment is always sexist. The business environment is one defined by competition and this grates on women’s expectation of it to be cooperative and collective. Women like Sallie expect recognition for merit, but wish for things to be easier rather than developing the skills to play the game better.

Get yourself a senior, successful – preferably female – mentor, who can help you navigate the politics of your company. This includes the gender politics. Can’t find one on your own? Speak to HR about helping you find one; this is their job, after all.

Your company doesn’t have a senior, successful female? Get the hell out of there.

Really the only sexism I’m seeing in this piece has been one coming from and endorsed by Krawcheck. She bemoans a lack of gender equity and then suggests a female mentor would be preferable to a male one. Her sexism is blatant here – the only definition of a solid reputable company is one that ensures it has a senior, successful female in it. Since most HR departments are staffed primarily with women it’s their job to help you find a senior, successful and female mentor? I’m not a business insider, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t their job.

I made this point in Male Space, but what happens when women insert themselves into a traditionally male dominated domain is that the enterprise becomes about accommodating the female influences rather than the enterprise itself. This entire article is an indictment of this. Again, the solution to a woman’s problem of not being successful is sought externally.

Do your best to make sure that your success is quantified. Be it a sales goal, a client satisfaction rating, an output metric, a quality target. Numbers count here because they’re black-and-white, cut-and-dried. Were you successful or not? I recommend this even if you work in a “normal” company, because implicit gender biases and expectations still exist for all of us.

Solid enough advice, but it’s couched in the context of an expectation of gender biases (at least the type of bias Sallie finds unacceptable). There’re implicit gender biases, but the ones we see dominate even ‘normal’ companies are ones that favor a feminized workforce.

Think about starting your own thing. This is what’s exciting; we have the ability to start our own businesses today, in a way we didn’t in the past. Why not take our marbles to our own playgrounds and build great businesses and cultures? Our mothers couldn’t do this because the cost was so high – but the costs of everything-about-starting-a-business, including technology, people (i.e., freelancers), real estate (co-working spaces) and support services are coming down. And then no one can relegate you to the less-interesting jobs.

Women are taught that they deserve the luxury of interesting jobs. In fact this is the sole reason for even wanting to enter the workforce most times – a rewarding career that’s fulfilling, but as I wrote in She’s Unhaaapy… that fulfillment is always elusive. Therefore it must be that uncooperative men are holding women back from this happiness.

I’m not sure opening another gourmet cupcake eatery counts as contributing to the status of women in business, but I would say that women ought to be encouraged to start up their own businesses rather than rely on the proven successes of established ones to prove their business acumen. Carly Fiorina and Sheryl Sandberg are not innovators in any sense. Neither started a company from scratch, but they are lauded as powerful businesswomen because they supposedly had the moxie to compete with the big boys and their sexist enterprises – not actually as a result of their companies wanting to present a feminine-correct public image.

I would love to see women’s organic business successes despite themselves, but my guess is that every failure or setback would have some tinge of external sexism attached to them. The truth is there are very few women who actually create something of worth because the easier path to success is to create a social convention that shames men for not including women in their own successes. It will always be easier for women to appropriate the success of men rather than create anything for themselves.

I am going to go out of my way to support other women. It’s clear now: we can’t do this alone. Another woman who is promoted or celebrated or funded clears the way for another. I am actively looking to buy from women-owned businesses, which is much easier these days — Glossier, Outdoor Voices, and Project September are just a few of a new wave of startups led by women — and avoid companies that remain all-men. I’m just so over supporting them.

And here we have yet more fem-centric sexism in a piece decrying male sexism. Weren’t we just reading about how surprised Sallie was about gender bias not being a thing of the past in the workplace? Because Trump won the election she calls for a boycott from buying anything from male owned companies?

One thing I’ve always found ironic about women’s call for collective, gender-exclusionary support for other women is that women are often guilty of even worse infighting than men are in the workplace. Lets face it, women hate other women to a degree that most men are unaware of. Their capacity for sub-communication and psychological warfare among themselves makes intra-sexual competition more brutal than having to deal with any so-called sexist male co-worker. From women’s collectivist perspective one would think that women’s intra-sexual support of other women would make them all outstanding successes in business, but we find the opposite is true. Women have a very hard time making an all-female enterprise a success. Naturally this is blamed, again, on men’s sexists brinksmanship and outmaneuvering them, but by and large it’s internal conflict that destroys all-female run enterprises.

Invest. Having spent my career on Wall Street and now being the founder of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women, I know I’m a broken record on this topic. But men invest to a greater extent than women do, and it costs us. Indeed, I believe investing is the best career advice women aren’t getting. Think about it – are you more able to tell your boss to take this job and shove it if you have more money or less money?

That’s what I thought. At the end of the day, money is the real key to gender equality.

Of course we get the sales pitch at the end. Women don’t invest because it’s not sexy. It requires a degree of commitment and a depth of insight that goes well beyond what an average woman has any interest in. I do find it entertaining that Sallie finally gets to the real reason for a gender inequality she claims she wants to see abolished. Money is most definitely a key to establishing social dominance and that creates a fundamentally unequal condition between men and women.

Businesses, successful ones, are founded on competition, not cooperation. This is the fundamental conflict we are experiencing in today’s corporate culture; women’s collectivism promotes what they believe should be a successful enterprise based on egalitarian cooperation while men largely see the enterprise as competition. Sometimes this is a win-at-any-cost type of competition, other times it may be more subtle, but the crux is that women’s propensity to want for a more collectivist approach to a successful enterprise is at odds with men’s competitive approach. Success in business is fundamentally unegalitarian, there are winners and losers, not co-equal participation trophy winners. But as women continue to insert themselves into the unegalitarian male spaces of enterprise we will see this push for cooperative hopes for business success fundamentally alter the purpose of these businesses as we attempt more and more to accommodate them.