Why Women Don’t Have Workplace Equality: Personal Reflections From A 84 Year Old Male Feminist
Women are still working hard to find solutions to the issues that have fueled the feminist movement for the last 60 years. What is the solution to this problem that never seems to go away? The question remains, “Why are some leaders oblivious to experiences of women that are negatively impacting the goal to be a great place for women to work. Let me share my perspective.
Feminist Movement Over 100+ Years: A Personal Historical Perspective
1848-1920’s: This feminist movement was widely needed because women lacked the right to vote, amongst other basic rights that were afforded to white men, but not women.
1960’s and 70’s:
The Good: This second wave of the feminist movement originally focused on dismantling workplace inequality, such as denial of access to better jobs and salary inequity via anti-discrimination laws. It was easy for me to support these goals.
The Bad: For men, some feminist leaders of the movement used an “in your face confrontation approach” that turned me and many men away from their worthy cause. It failed to engage men as partners in creating the solution – and mostly pointed blame at the men who benefited from rampant discrimination in organizational systems, cultures, and even state and federal laws.
These same feminists in the 60’s also alienated many women. My wife criticized me for supporting this movement. She asked, “How could you support the causes of feminists who speak disparagingly about your wife’s choice to be a stay at home mom, take care of our sons, or do volunteer work? How can you support women who demean me because I chose not work in a fulltime job outside the home? My role is very important and should be respected.” These conversations quickly changed my views of the feminist movement and my opinions quickly evolved.
2016: The Rise Of The “Me Too” Movement
While the movement first began in 2006, the latest evolution of #MeToo in the feminist movement has been very important because it raises awareness to the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and empowers women, through strength of numbers, to break their silence.
Progress to be celebrated – It may have taken 60 years, but we can celebrate a lot of success that resulted from the tireless, unselfish efforts and sacrifices of the feminists who pioneered these movements. Unfortunately, today’s women are experiencing many of these same problems. They never seem to go away.
Now, there is an innovative solution that will ensure all women receive equal treatment for which they have been fighting – a solution that can be achieved at an accelerated pace of change women need and deserve.
As a man today, I see two “women’s movements” going on simultaneously.
- In Your Face Feminist – The Ongoing Scream For Help: – The feminists who lead the “Me Too” movement and the women who are marching on statehouses and the US capital to support women’s legal issues need to be loud and in-your-face to get the attention of people in positions of power. I support their goals, but unfortunately, regardless of the volume of noise and pressure they give, many of the issues they’re trying to overcome persist.
- Quiet Women’s Movement– I also see a quiet women’s movement going on in many organizations. These women are not loud or in-your-face, but are proactively trying to transform the experience for women in the workplace. They are forming informal women’s groups, inside their organizations, to discuss issues unique to women; many are attending conferences in large numbers to listen to other women speak about women’s issues; while others are trying to take ownership for their own career and be less dependent on men to get promotions, raises or additional responsibilities.
Unfortunately, whether these women are in-your-face or quiet, in my opinion, all women want is equal treatment, just as the earlier feminist leaders wanted. Both groups are looking for a solution and they have not found anything that will accelerate the pace of change they need and deserve!
In order to accelerate the pace of change, I believe men are going to have to recognize that women’s issues may exists in their organizations of which they are not aware.
Today’s Male Leaders: In today’s business world I see four categories of male leaders who are attempting to address the needs of women in their organizations:
- Men Who “Get It”! These men are addressing the needs of women with proactive strategic initiatives. They are doing something because it is the right thing to do for their women and for their businesses. One caveat about this group – I have not seen any that are proactively surveying their women to identify, quantify and manage individual women’s issues or experiences that might be occurring without the leader’s knowledge.
- Men Who Have “Check The Box” Initiatives. Are Their Initiatives Real Or Cosmetic? These leaders report that they provide sexual harassment training, can demonstrate they have women in leadership roles, and have other initiatives designed to address the needs of women. They check the box that their programs address the needs of women. These male leaders are leaning in the right direction, but some of their efforts are cosmetic. Unless they develop annual surveys that identify, quantify and manage individual women’s issues, some of their initiatives may be misdirected and appear to be more cosmetic than beneficial to women.
- Male Leaders Who Are In Denial About The Needs Of Women– No change can occur without the leader recognizing an immediate need for change. Nearly every one of the leaders in this category, tell me how busy they are with other priorities…they have had no complaints…have women in leadership roles….women’s issues are not a priority. They are in denial because they do not have data about individual women’s issues or blind spot experiences that might be occurring without the leader’s knowledge. Change comes hard.
- Male Leaders Who Want To Help But Do Not Know What To Do. From my observations, some of these men are paralyzed into inactivity. Still others delegate the problem down to one of their top woman leaders with no directives or goals they would like to achieve. If these men are ever going to become a leader who “gets it”, they will need help finding a bold, new, innovative solution that will ensure all women receive equal treatment.
It’s Not Just the Men Either:
Based on my observations, I see two broad categories of WOMEN leaders who have the opportunity to make their organizations a great place for women to work, but have not taken a strong enough initiative to accelerate the pace of change:
- Women in organizations when men occupy most of the leadership positions
- Organizations controlled and managed predominately by women leaders. Two that come to mind are social service organizations and hospitals.
Initially I thought that once women were in a position of influence, they would be advocates of initiatives that make their organizations a great place for women to work. My assumptions were wrong. Like their male counterparts there are:
- Women who “get it”
- Women who have “check the box” initiatives.
- Women leaders who are in denial about the needs of women
- Women leaders who want help but do not know what to do.
From my perspective, many executive women talk a good game about being advocates for women and report their organizations are a good place for women to work, but like their male counterparts, I have not seen many who are proactively surveying their women to identify, quantify and manage individual women’s issues or blind spot experiences that might be occurring without the leader’s knowledge.
My Advice? Survey Your Women: Men, and women leaders, must take ownership of making your organization a great place to work. Budget money for a survey to determine if any “ blind spots” might be occurring in your organization without top management’s knowledge; to learn what needs to be done specifically in your organization to accelerate the pace of change women need and deserve; The best one I have seen has been developed by Jessica Gendron and her team at The Center For Leadership Excellence. Visit their web site www.cleindy.com
Next Topic: In Part Four of this series, I will review the steps necessary to solve these issues that have face women and organizations for many years. I call it The Best Place For Women To Work Solution.
Bio: Richard Butz is founder of The Center For Leadership Excellence whose mission is “Making Indy A Great Place For Women To Work” He has been recognized as a pioneer and a passionate advocate for gender balance and gender equity in business for over four decades.