I have been listening to the battle rage on about men and women my entire life. My mother once famously said: “My greatest disappointment is you were born a male”. My mother was a hard working, brilliant woman. She was a feminist. She would always push the limits of everything she did. Another trait of my mother was her beauty.
Exploitation was the name of the game in the 70’s. Good enough to the run the company, paid the like the janitor. Attractive enough to bring in the business but left out of the commissions. No credit for the skills if the skirt was high enough. Being a single mother made this journey all the more difficult. She, like so many single mothers of the 70’s lived a life of self absorbed indulgence. Sacrificing for the children while striving for the paycheck. An American dream just outside the sliding glass door. It was not a ceiling. It would easily open for the right tradeoffs. None of this was lost on me.
In that time, like now, men were to blame. And they were. The world was stacked against her. One time, when she was pulled over by a policer officer in Belmont CA., she was offered a pass for a date. I recall my mothers anger and resentment. She attempted to report him, only to find she was one of dozens that were ignored. Later, that officer got his punishment, but at a huge cost to the women of Belmont. In the end, my mother took great pains to point out these inequalities to me. She educated me on many fads of the 1970’s. She also grilled into me that women are ever bit as smart and capable as men. And I took that as gospel. Little did I know that was not exactly the truth.
Later in life, I learned the other side of this story. I learned that it’s not an easy solution and that both sides suffer from role assignments. I was shocked to find some women wanted to live at home and raise families. With no ambition of high placed jobs or dislodging men from roles of power. That they wanted to be taken care of. Allowed to perform the larger job of raising a family and keeping those traditions alive. Some were clearly on the other side of this bright line of a woman’s rights, while others simply landed in the middle without much of a language. Don’t get me wrong. My mother, and the woman who flocked to her banner never lost the courage or flame for advancement with out barriers, but another world existed and I was shocked.
How does a culture reconcile these complex and loaded issues? They don’t. This is such a loaded topic, we can’t hardly discuss it. Even if we could. We can’t be honest in the workplace. There is a subterranean culture formed from the silent nemesis of equality today. Men are as clueless as ever. Women are learning more about legislative rights and making all manner of legal remedies for years of injustice. Good when it works. Horrible when even some women don’t want to play by those rules. Men, are again clueless to the shift. I can tell you that without a doubt. My mother always said; “Women are in charge, just not in the workplace”.
So, how do women come to rule in the workplace? First. Stop trying to rule! Men don’t want that, and a lot of women don’t too. Second. Men are clueless and thousands of years have proven that. Not only that, the Western powers and the age of feminine equality is just that. A largely new event in world history that has yet to spread across the world. One only need read a news feed and you find men still run large parts of the world. Period. Men do not want more competition for the scarce “good jobs” there are. Let’s face it. There are limited seats at the metaphorical place called the board room. There are now 7 Billion people in the world with better than 90% of them sidelined. Why would anyone want to let go of that privilege? Help men understand why this is good for them too and change will come much faster.
It is a two way street. Men don’t see how to transition today. I was once in a park with my young daughter. I was home at 2pm watching her play on the swings, kicking back on a bench and enjoying the sun. A tap on the shoulder distracted me. It was a police officer. He kindly asked me what I was doing and what business I had in the park. Shocked, I looked up and asked what business it was of his? What was I doing wrong that prompted him to ask me this. Nicely, the officer said; “It’s, well, the other women making a complaint”. I was mortified. I pointed out my daughter and he asked her over. After a brief Q/A I was found to be safe and my daughter was returned to play. The saddest part of this story is that I was not allowed to know which of the mothers called me in. And when pressed, the office told me that it’s unusual for men to be about with young children during the day. That is when I hit the pause button.
So, how can men leave the workplace and transition to the realm of womanhood? Sure, we have a few social parodies of this. A movie or two here and there. But really. Where are the support groups for stay at home dads? The welcoming women who invite new dads to coffee? Women who trust explicitly the father who cavorts with young moms while she works away providing for the family? Laughing yet? Yeah, that’s exactly the problem. We do not have a clear and holistic path for men to follow and men are not willing to give up one ounce of access or power until we are sure there is a path to success. Lean in all you want women, we won’t lean back until we know the chair won’t tip over.
So what’s that bottom line? Learn to let go and help make a 50/50 deal possible and here is how I propose we do that.
1) All leadership roles are job shared. Yes, that is exactly what I said. On every board. Make a rotation for every man there must be one woman assigned to swap out the duties over a given amount of time.
2) Women present programs for men to see the value of raising children and NOT being challenged for trying to run a house hold. Remember, we have our peers too and getting laghed at for being Mr. Mom is a real problem
3) Men, accept change is coming for the better. Diversity is great and will be a strategic value. Don’t wait until it’s something everyone else has done. Lead from a position of strength and bring women along.