Unlocking the power of old-school feminism in today’s workplaces

 
 

“Feminism must end its sex war, which is stunting the maturation of both girls and boys. Upper-middle-class career women in the Americas and Europe blame men for their unhappiness. But the real cause is systemic. In the shift from the agrarian to the industrial and now technological era, women have lost the daylong companionship and solidarity they once enjoyed with other women when they ruled the private sphere.

In a new world where men and women share the same ambitions and workplace, perhaps a mutual incompatibility or creative tension between the sexes may have to be tolerated. But what is indisputable is that women do not gain by weakening men. An enlightened feminism, animated by a courageous code of personal responsibility, can only be built upon a wary alliance of strong women and strong men.”
 
– From “Free Women, Free Men” (Camille Paglia)

v0.1 – ZS

Have you ever applied for a job without meeting all of the requirements?

If you’re a man, chances are good that you have. Chances are also good that you’ve landed a job for which you have been unqualified, just by virtue of being the best (underqualified) candidate.

The same is not true for women. From Harvard Business Review:
 

You’ve probably heard the following statistic: Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

The finding comes from a Hewlett Packard internal report, and has been quoted in Lean In, The Confidence Code and dozens of articles. It’s usually invoked as evidence that women need more confidence. As one Forbes article put it, “Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.” The advice: women need to have more faith in themselves.”

Harvard Business Review Link

 

This is a “fact”. It may be an oversimplification, it may not be “true” in all organizations, but it can’t be ignored. What, then, shall we do with this fact?

This statistic seems like the type of fact that might be undesirable in an organization. What if underqualified men are taking jobs away from perfectly qualified women? Also, what if equally-qualified men and women advanced at different rates based solely on confidence?
 
 
:: OPTION #1: TREAT THIS AS A SYSTEMIC ISSUE
What does “systemic issue” even mean? You may have heard this term used by activists and/or professionals to describe issues like poverty and racism…
 

Systemic discrimination refers to patterns of behavior, policies or practices that are part of the structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate disadvantage for racialized persons. It has a broad impact on an industry, profession, company, or geographic area.

Examples of systemic practices include:

  1. discriminatory barriers in recruitment and hiring;
  2. discriminatorily restricted access to management trainee programs and to high level jobs;
  3. exclusion of qualified women from traditionally male dominated fields of work; disability discrimination such as unlawful pre-employment inquiries;
  4. age discrimination in reductions in force and retirement benefits; and
  5. compliance with customer preferences that result in discriminatory placement or assignments.

– From definitions.uslegal.com

 

In other words, the system is the problem and the system is the thing that needs to change. Technically, this is true.

Most modern activism seems to focus on addressing systemic issues, especially in high-level leadership (i.e corporate representation) and in the tech sector (especially in male-typical occupations like coding & physics).

This is done at a great deal of time and energy. It also involves a great deal of conflict and upheaval.
 
 
:: OPTION #2: EXPECT THE INDIVIDUAL TO OVERCOME THE ADDITIONAL HARDSHIP
The first approach would be to amend the system to even the playing field. Obviously, this is desirable and should be done as fast as possible.

However, it is said that “big ships take time to turn”, and this is also true. Elegant wording about systemic issues does nothing to help today’s young women overcome the gender-specific challenges they face in the boardroom.

I believe many of the challenges that young female professionals face can be overcome by adopting some specific tools and concepts.

I have been involved in teaching, mentorship, coaching, and leadership development roles for about ten years, with 80% of that work with young people and 20% of that work with corporate clients.

I have often seen people describe gender differences, and there’s lots of discussion about generational differences in the literature. What I would like to propose here is a type of “intersectionality” that may help young women, young men, and HR and L&D professionals facilitate more effective communication between employees of different walks of life.

What follows is a quick guide to gender relations, separated by gender and generation.

Male Baby Boomers are particularly great sources of wisdom, if you can earn their respect. This usually means demonstrating yourself under pressure. This will feel unfair, but think of it like a movie: Every Katniss has her Haymitch.

I suggest that young women pay special attention to the outlooks and tactics employed by female Baby Boomers. They faced the most ridiculous forms of discrimination, and had to develop the most brutally effective tactics and perspectives.

I can be contacted at zachary (at) zacharystrong (dot) net with questions or comments.
 
 
 

Strengths to honour & preserve:

Discipline, sacrifice, courage, self-sufficiency.
 

Female outlook on gender relations

“Why would you care about anything that idiot says? He’s been cheating on his wife for years and everyone knows it. Just ignore him, he’ll go away.”

  • Likely experienced or witnessed casual sexual harassment
  • Opportunities were often arbitrarily limited, and they had to “make do with what they had”
  • Still cultivated the “world of women”, whisper networks, and “men are from mars” mentality
  • Came from a world where women lacked power and were often denied justice: became gracious & guarded
  • Frankly acknowledged differences between men and women, both “good” and “bad”

 

Male outlook on gender relations:

“I’d never say this in public, but we all know there are… differences. Men are just more logical, direct, and assertive. My CMO is great, though. She’s a powerhouse. One of the boys.”

  • Type A: were in a dangerous profession (army, blue-collar) or were raised by someone who was. Remember, their parents lived through wars. They approach everything with that lens, which makes them abrasive to women of younger generations.
  • Type B: upper-middle class, “Aspirational 14%”. Opinions on gender are driven by stereotypes and need to keep up appearances to themselves & others.
  • May be openly critical or skeptical of female competence; however, will give credit if they see “hard evidence”. Are likely anachronistic when it comes to what’s acceptable to say to/about women, so develop a “thick skin”.

 

“Respect” for women of this generation feels like:

Good manners, first and foremost (weren’t you raised properly?). Listening thoughtfully and paying attention. Being trustworthy & having integrity. Being kind and generous.
 

“Respect” for men of this generation feels like:

Trusting that some rules are there for a reason and don’t need to be explained. Knowing that there’s a time & place for questions or challenges. Taking the time to listen to “war stories” or “big fish stories”, as they usually contain valuable leadership principles. Being proactive about things.

Strengths to honour & preserve:

Industriousness, diligence, obligation, perseverance.
 

Female outlook on gender relations

“Put a woman in charge. Men have fumbled the ball for long enough.”

  • Heavily overburdened: supporting aging parents, kids entering postsecondary, divorces are common
  • First to have many of the opportunities afforded to women: there is a strong desire to prove what women can do
  • In many cases their efforts have genuinely been thwarted by social expectations or work/life balance
  • Some harbour a level of resentment that influences their behaviour at work.
  • Most responsible for the type of activism seen in education & politics.

 

Male outlook on gender relations:

“Look at my car! Look at my magazine subscriptions! Have you seen my business card? Look at my hot secretary, but don’t let her know I said she was hot. Want some whiskey?”

  • There’s a lot of good family men here, but they’re the invisible people that make the world run and you will never encounter them unless you are one of them or become one of them
  • This demographic is the most likely to support feminist issues in public, and fall prey to their bad habits whenever nobody is looking.
  • It’s not anybody’s fault: Dad was busy fighting the Germans or Serbians or whoever, or running the company to put food on the table.

 

“Respect” for women of this generation feels like:

Reciprocity. Being trusted in areas of expertise. Awareness of many demands she is under, and the fact that some days may be bad days. Taking the time to understand their vision. Giving her the time to express herself.
 

“Respect” for men of this generation feels like:

Usually typical of male gender norms: honour, respect, achievement, accumulation.

Strengths to honour & preserve:

Ambition, drive, worldview, heart.
 

Female outlook on gender relations

“I have two degrees, volunteer at an orphanage, have a YouTube channel with 30,000 followers, and my boss still doesn’t take me seriously… what the fuck am I doing wrong!?”

  • Extremely wide range of knowledge of & opinions on feminism depending on the woman
  • Some of the most highly educated & driven people in the workforce: they’ve been told they can do anything
  • Most have had to endure at least one unreasonable proposition from a married/older man who ought to have known better: many are very gracious about it, and are often confused at the zealous feminists of Gen X who would head straight to HR to make a complaint
  • Would benefit strongly from mentors from Senior Leader demographics – ideally, one of each gender

 

Male outlook on gender relations:

“I’m a young professional and a genius, see?! Look at my suit! Look at my startup! Look at my philosophy blog! Look at how hard I hustle! Have you seen this Jordan Peterson video? Do you have any advice on how to talk to women?”

  • Although technically they grew up alongside their female contemporaries, a unique blend of psychology, technology, and social policy seems to have disrupted the development and confidence of Gen Y’s men
  • That said, many of them are keenly intelligent and highly self-aware: men who grew up on internet culture are highly socially fluent, albiet not in person
  • Would benefit strongly from mentors from Senior Leader demographics – ideally, one of each gender

 

“Respect” for women of this generation feels like:

Being judged on their accomplishments and merit, not their age, apparent inexperience, or beauty. Being given the honest truth (not sugar-coated or babied). Feeling welcome to express themselves without judgement.
 

“Respect” for men of this generation feels like:

Giving them a chance to prove themselves. Tough-but-fair feedback that allows for maximum improvement. Appreciation for their interests (which are often esoteric or highly intellectual).

Strengths to honour & preserve:

Perspective, TBD, TBD, TBD
 

Notes:

This demographic is just entering the workforce. They seem savvy, cynical, and looking for answers. Yet, they lack interpersonal skills (at least in person).

It would be interesting and worthwhile to pair the youngest employees, Gen Z’s, with mentors who are among the most senior in the company. The do-it-yourself approach of Baby Boomers will provide a much-needed counterpoint to the over-structured lives of Gen Z. Make it a cross-gendered pairing to shake things up.

 
 

Gender relations in an egalitarian age

 
 

Gender relations in an egalitarian age

In 2010, when I was an undergraduate engineering student at McMaster University, a group of students I was involved with pulled a prank that was not well-received by the administration. In the mandatory sensitivity training that ensured, I had my eyes opened to a whole other side of the human experience – namely, the female experience.
“What if you were a female engineering student in that class? How would you have felt?”
It was a powerful question that was posed to me by an employee of the Human Rights & Equity Services office at the time, that led to a major shift in perspective. Over the past nine years, I have been an award-winning student leader who championed LGBTQ+ rights within McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering, and I have been a mentor to dozens of “women in tech”.
My career, however, has not been in engineering: since 2012, I’ve been a marketing and communications professional, responsible for “speaking the language” of “target demographics”. To put it simply, the most pertinent gender-related insight I can share is that although “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”, all genders have analogous experiences that generate frustrations of similar intensity.
For example: the type and flavor of frustration a woman may feel after a setback at work is similar to the type of frustration a man may feel after a second date goes poorly. Both walk away questioning themselves, their value, and so on. By connecting the dots between these experiences – which are often in different spheres of life – I believe that more empathy can be developed and stronger inter-sexual bonds can be formed.
Between my Diversity-Equity-Inclusion experience, my experience as a coach and mentor, and my experience as a business professional, I have identified two “wedge issues” that seem to resurface over time. Resolving these issues may unlock mutually-agreeable solutions between the various camps in the “culture wars”.

Acceptance of slight differences between biological sexes
Many of the major institutions in the West are dominated by “educated” people, which means that some things are going awry: gender identity in kindergarten, an obsessive focus on intersectionality, and so on.
One of the most obvious misconceptions held by many educated people is a “blank slate” view of humanity, where children are entirely products of their environment – and not of genetics. Of course, evolution is characterized by a complex interrelated set of environmental and genetic factors, and such a blank-slate view is flawed and absurd.
There are obvious and well-documented differences between the sexes in both abilities and inclinations: (facts, facts, facts: find 5 cool stats).
The Core Issue: If we accept that there are differences of any sort, this could lead to discrimination in workplaces, unjust institutions, and misinformed child-rearing practices. Everyone deserves an equal shot at life, no matter who they are.
How to Mitigate: Aside from third-generation family businesses and privately-owned companies run by morons, “best practices” in business are constantly evolving in search of the best talent at the best price. Although many LTBTQ+ activists have a negative view of corporate, if trust can be built in this area, it may create time that can be used to implement provisional solutions.
Possible First Steps: A trade: no more gender-based quotas, no more blank-slate rhetoric. In return, IDW develops & helps to implement viable replacement solutions that provide best chances to marginalized groups.

Defining acceptable boundaries regarding inter-sexual aggression
There is almost nothing that can get a man’s ass kicked faster than hitting a woman in public. We are bigger than they are, it’s an unfair fight, right? However, there have been some interesting points raised over the last several years (and sorry to everyone I cite here):
• There is a common saying, at least where I grew up: “equal rights, equal fights”. Of course, this never holds up in practice. People just don’t go around hitting women, even if they joke about it once in a while.
• Speaking of joking about hitting women, there is a comedian named Bill Burr clip who has a bit on YouTube where he discusses hitting women. The valuable insight he provided with this clip was the distinction between actually getting hit and being deserving of getting hit.
• If you want to see the general public attitude towards hitting women, there is a YouTube “experiment video” that shows the stark differences between male-female and female-male aggression: as expected, men acting aggressively towards a woman are neutralized almost instantly by unsuspecting bystanders, yet women faced no such repurcussions
• Lastly, and most importantly, Jordan Peterson enraged “the left” when he discussed inter-sexual aggression in a conversation with Camilla Paglia. Specifically, one of the comments they took most offense to was regarding … “asdf”.

The Core Issue: This is a very sensitive issue. I’m not advocating for hitting anyone. But what I do want to draw attention to is the act of boundary-setting. There are some things that men just can’t say to other men without getting punched in the jaw. However, women can say some outrageous things to men – and even hit them in public – without suffering any repercussions. This is very difficult to mitigate.
How to Mitigate: Here, I am going to invoke the concept of “agency”. Essentially, agency is having control over one’s own life. Specifically, the power to make decisions that matter… and suffer the consequences. When we rob women of consequences, we rob them of agency. I believe that some deep-level conversations about inter-sexual boundary setting might create the foundation for some viable solutions. Of course, this works two ways: what are things that women would punch men for if they could? Fair is fair.
Possible First Steps: Instead of focusing on aggression, focus on boundaries. What does everyone need to feel respected in their day-to-day life? Transformational scenario planning is likely required.