There have been several provocative articles lately around gender issues. For example, Atlantic Monthly’s “The End of Men“, The Shriver report “A Woman’s Nation“, or Newsweek’s “Women Will Rule the World.” Needless to say, the titles are designed to get a rise from readers – and they do. That’s a different issue. What struck me, however, was how these pieces gave the distinct impression that women have pretty much reached parity with men at home as well as professionally. If only it were so. The fact is, things are better than they were 30 years ago- but we still have a way to go.
I’m located in Silicon Valley, living near the high tech and biotech companies we’re known for. Many of our businesses and their employees are young: Gen Xers and Millenials (with some Baby Boomers, like me). These next generation women are coming into the workplace having had a less gender-segregated (is there such a word as “genderfied?!”) upbringing than I did. When I speak to young women entering the workforce, they are as motivated as their male counterparts to succeed. Many start their life planning right away: When should I marry? How far into my career should I be before I have children? Will I take time off work when I do? [I wonder how many men ask themselves those questions when they’re newly minted professionals].
But here’s the catch. A few years ago I started a professional women’s group, SDForum Tech Women. (This is my “volunteer” work which gets way too much attention from me, I’m afraid). A non-profit group, part of my responsibilities as co-Chair (thank you Sonja for sharing the load!), is to find a company each month to host our evening program. Here’s where it gets interesting.
My contact is usually the women’s affinity group within the company (often called something like Women@ XXXXX with XXXX being the company name). Many companies have graciously hosted this, for which we are most appreciative. What’s surprised me has been how many of these groups were formed within the last 3 – 4 years. You’d think such internal groups were no longer needed. What’s happening?
My guess is that when the younger generations of women enter the corporate world, they discover it is not what they expected. Having been schooled in a far more egalitarian manner than we older women, they are now finding themselves in the predominantly male culture of business that permeates even the most progressive companies.
This is NOT a condemnation of the companies but rather a reminder that old ways die hard and the DNA of business will take a while to be modified. Women as well as men have unconscious notions of what a successful executive or innovator looks like. [Research over the years has shown that the same work product, when attributed to a woman, is generally rated lower than the same work product when attributed to a man whether the rater is male or female].
So let’s celebrate the progress that has been made without accepting the current situation as the end point. That’s my opinion. What’s yours?