Friday, April 4, 2014

Leaning In, and Double Standards

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton spoke at Tina Brown's Women in the World summit, alongside IMF chief Christine Lagarde.  The moderator asked each to reflect on whether there was still "a double standard in the media about how we talk about women in public life."   Clinton responded that There is a double standard, obviously.  We have all either experienced it or at the very least seen it. And there  is a deep set of cultural psychological views that are manifest through this double standard.”  She went on to talk about the differences she's seen in male and female responses in the workplace--how young women always say "do you think I'm ready?" when given new responsibilities, while young men simply say "when do I start?"  She talked about the self-doubt women inevitably carry with them, something men don't do.  She talked about the criticism that women also inevitably face.  During the discussion, as she often has of late, she invoked the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:  "Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide."  

I've been thinking a lot lately about that double standard, so her words particularly resonated with me.  I've long worked in male-dominated fields.  I've often been the only woman at the table.  I've "leaned in" for so long that I don't know any other way.  I know just what Sheryl Sandberg means when she talks about women pulling themselves out of the game before it's even started.  But even when you lean in, you work hard, you excel at your job, you are qualitatively and quantitatively better than the men by any measurable standard--by EVERY measurable standard, you still have to deal with that double standard. . .the one that says that, despite all of the evidence, you really aren't equal, because you are just a woman. 

My current boss is a woman, and she's also good at her job.  And she reinforces that double standard regularly.   I've watched as men are offered business trips traveling to interesting places. . .while I and other women have been offered only assignments in town.  I suspect that she thinks she is being kind, because she knows I have young kids.  But shouldn't women get offered the assignments?  Shouldn't we be allowed a say in whether we want to travel?  She has told multiple women in my office that we need to work on our "tone" in our emails--that we are too direct.  I have to wonder if she's ever given that advice to a man.   I recently heard her refer to me as a "no nonsense" person.  What does that mean, exactly. . .and would anyone ever say that about a man?  

Of course, I play the game.  I take the assignments I get, without complaint, and try to do them well.  I take the criticism graciously, and promise to try to do better.  I let the description roll of my shoulders.  Because really, what else is there to do?  I once had a very successful female politician tell me, "Look, does sexism exist out there?  You bet.  But does talking about it help?  Not really.  You just have to go out there and do your job."   And I think that's right.  Jumping up and down about it doesn't help.  

It sure would be nice, though, if I didn't have to be gracious and navigate around these issues.  It sure would be nice if I didn't need rhinoceros hide.  It sure would be nice to just be able to go to work, do my job well, and be recognized for it. . .like a man.  And I hope and pray that we can create a more enlightened and equal workplace for these wonderful daughters I am raising, because they deserve so much better than this.   We may have come a long way, baby, but it's not nearly far enough.


Heather said...

Amen, sister! I've also been in a male-dominated field for so long (first engineering and now IT) and I've experienced all the things you've just talked about. I also wish I could just have my work appreciated and treated as if I was a man! I'm also very direct and to the point in my work, as I don't like to waste any time. I'm mindful of people's feelings, but I need to make sure we stay on task sometimes. Let's hope the next generations have an easier time of it.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

It would be a beautiful day if that happened, to have the focus be on how well we do our job as individuals.

I think leaning in is all well and good, but there does need to be a management team (or board if you're high enough up) to support that leaning in. If not, you can lean in all you want, but all you'll do is fall or press uncomfortably against the push back.