I was catching up on my reading the other day and came across a quote in Time Magazine that really struck me. It beautifully sums up the current gender equality conundrum: “The 2016 election is a referendum on what women can be – and what men can get away with”. Really?
Let’s take a closer look at this quote devoid of a political commentary although I was appalled by the vulgarity, viciousness and sexism coming from one of the candidates (and, no doubt, you know to whom I’m referring). The bigger issue is the subtle double standard inherent in this statement. It is another example of the unconscious biases that women regularly confront. Question #1: Why is anyone questioning what “women can be?” Why can men get away with behaviors and actions that women neither would engage in nor be allowed to “get away with”?
Women, time and time again, have proven to be exceedingly capable. Few would dispute the capability of Ginni Rometty (CEO IBM), Mary Barra (CEO GM), Susan Wojcicki (CEO YouTube), Cathy Englebert (CEO Deloitte LLC), and Indra Nooyi (CEO Pepsico). They and 45 others were included on Fortune Magazine’s list of 50 Most Powerful Women. Angela Merkle, Melinda Gates, Christine Lagarde, and Aung San Suu Kyi are acknowledged leaders in the global arena. Finally, let us remember the fact that women shape civilizations. They tend to be the de facto parent with child rearing responsibilities (although the number of men involved with raising children has increased over the years).
So, why is there a referendum on what women can be? We already are be-ing. Question #2: Why do men get away with things that are inappropriate? This is a bigger question. Why are men held to, what appears to be a lower standard? For example, while Hillary Clinton was taken to task for the email server debacle, why wasn’t Donald Trump held accountable for producing his tax returns. Why, wasn’t his feet held to the fire when he said that it’s good business to avoid paying taxes -- for close to 20 years? Sexual harassment is another example of men getting away with something. Given the number of sexual harassment allegations coming to the forefront, why are women shouldering the burden of proof? Anita Hill was put through a humiliating interrogation when she had the courage to speak out during the Congressional confirmation of Clarence Thomas. According to a recent survey conducted by Cosmopolitan, 1 out of 3 women have been sexually harassed on their jobs. Sadly, 71% of the women never reported it. Why? Fear of the ensuing repercussions. It is incumbent on organizations to conduct an impartial investigation and hold men accountable for their actions. Granted, there may be instances of women calling “wolf”. However, the majority of women are honest. Regardless, there needs to be a thorough investigation before passing judgment According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, there is evident that women’s failures are held against them longer than those of men. Another example of a double standard. When the “curtain is pulled back” one finds that unconscious biases and behavioral expectations are at the heart of the problem. Here are three suggestions for managing them: #1. Acknowledge that both women and men are already in their “ can being-ness”. There are situations where women out pace men and vice versa. The important thing is to appreciate the differences that do exist between the genders and build upon the strengths each brings to the party. #2. Recognize there is a double standard. While men may be the primary offender, women also have culpability. Start noticing ways in which the double standard shows up. For the men, ask yourself if you would hold your male friends to the same performance standards as you are expecting from a woman on your team. Or, would you let it slide? If the latter, then cut the women some slack. For women, ask yourself if the expectation you’re superimposing on yourself is the same as a guy would put on himself. Be honest. If in doubt, ask several female or male friends for a reality check. Then pare back your expectation if you are in an “overachieving” or “underestimating yourself” mode. #3. Call others out when you are experiencing a double standard. Unconscious behavior is just that – unconscious. It is highly likely the other person is unaware of what s/he is doing. Gently and respectfully, call that person’s attention to what is occurring. This is a great opportunity for having a rich conversation, expand that person’s awareness, and bring the unconscious to the conscious level. If gender equality (aka gender neutrality) is ever going to be attained, we have to acknowledge that there is a double standard. We also have to accept that both women and men, fundamentally, are already in their being-ness. And we have to courageously hold each other accountable for misconduct. In the end, everyone prospers.