More on the Get Interactive series later this week, but - true to my distracted nature - I'm going to wander off on another tangent right in the middle of it. And a fiery tangent at that. Let's kickoff this week by talking about gender.
Listening to Hillary Clinton's concession speech this weekend, I was glad to hear her finally speak frankly about the barriers that her candidacy had the opportunity break down. In perhaps her most memorable remark she talked about blazing a path for the women who will follow her:
Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it. And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.
It's interesting in a time when gender inequality is still such a prevalent experience, how little it's actually spoken about. Particularly in our industry. We are at once liberal and progressive. Yet, still, on average, paying women less than men for the same jobs. Giving them less access to true leadership. Packing new business teams with guys in suits. Shorting maternity leave. Etc. But, to talk about it ... no, it's unmentionable.
I have a theory on why.
Discrimination - and, I'm sorry, it's a tough word that lots of people have warned me against using, but it is what we're talking about - has become increasingly benign. So subconscious and blandly everyday that it's nearly impossible to work up the fervor to rally against.
The intent is simply not there. It's so built into our cultures that it goes un-talked about. Passed from one supervisor to the next. Insidious harm affably wrapped.
So what do you say we strip it down?
My girlfriends and I have worked at all kinds of agencies and companies. And for all kinds of bosses. Personally, I worked on the smoking floor of a converted factory for a 600-pound man deep in the Midwest AND in a gorgeous custom-designed loft space for one of the second city's leading lady power brokers. Our careers have taken us across the country and back. And, in them, we've found four key ways that men create "boys clubs."
Boys Club defined: Group of men whose routine and systematic actions - intended or circumstantial - limit the daily success and career potential of their female peers. These 'clubs' are not always culture-wide. They can exist in smaller teams or departments.
Four Ways to Diagnose a Possible Boys Club:
- Access: Agencies tend to be social places. Ones where long lunches are had, golf is played, after-work drinks are enjoyed, etc. The challenge comes when those social outings are both open to men only AND are occasions when business is done.
When everything from department structures to project plans are routinely being discussed in forums women don't have access to, it creates discrimination.
Many women would go farther and say that just the fact of the social outings - business or no - is access-based discrimination because men have the opportunity to build personal relationships and different kinds of respect with agency leaders than women do. It's a fair argument in a business that is based so much on gut instinct and the belief that who you know = who you can trust.
The key concepts here are routinely and systematically. It's not one guy taking two other guys out to lunch. It's a leader routinely socializing exclusively with the men on his team and systematically excluding women in the same / similar positions.
- Stacking: One of my least favorite things to see is an "About our leaders" section of an agency Web site populated with 15 guys all wearing the same suit.
It's common when talking about gender in an agency to mention what percentage of women work there - as in, women make up 45% of our staff. The trick is in asking - which 45%? Discrimination by stacking happens when the women on the team (routinely and systematically) hold only the lowest-ranking, lowest-paying spots. They're interns, assistants, entry levels. And the men (routinely and systematically) are the managers, supervisors and leaders. That's not equal hiring. At best, it's tokenism. At worst, it's evidence of a belief that women are less capable and have less value.
- Communication: A woman we recently interviewed for our strategy group had previously worked at a very well-known regional school for girls. We asked her to make the elevator argument for single-gender education and one of the points she made was that women answer questions differently in class. Men tend to put their hands up right away and shoot from the hip. Women tend to think about it for ~12 seconds. They think conceptually, consider lots of different angles. Come to a conclusion.
I loved that illustration because I've always thought that cultures that communicate by yelling, fighting and jocking for position are discriminatory, but I couldn't quite explain why. It's a more masculine way of communicating. One that rewards one gender-specific style over another one.
This is a discrimination that is worse for the doer. You miss out on a lot of great ideas and insights by steamrolling over your peers. And on a lot of good partnerships by screaming at them.
- Entertainment. Apparently it still has to be said. Emailing pornography. Making lists of the hottest women in the office. Talking about your peer's breasts or ass or propensity for, well, you know. Yeah, that's all wrong. It creates attitudes of disrespect and otherness in cultures that by-and-large already have enough problems.
I mention these things for a couple of reasons.
First, because - in general - I really don't believe the men who are part of these boys club cultures mean any harm. Meaning: If made aware of their behaviors, they may be predisposed to stop.
And, second, because while I've self-selected out of cultures like these, not everyone has or can - so, it's important to talk about. To keep challenging what's right and fair. Better than it used to be isn't enough.