I must be getting out of touch because I often think our world has gone crazy, and never more so when it comes to the glacial pace of women’s advancements in society.
A recent Morning Consult/NYTimes poll left me aghast. A sample of people were asked whether they thought meeting one on one with a work colleague was inappropriate and those who answered in the affirmative fell into the following categories (divided by party affiliations and religious inclinations):
The margin was higher – 34% – amongst Evangelical Christians and significantly lower – 16% – amongst atheists.
Moreover, a majority of women, and nearly half of all men, think it’s inappropriate to have dinner or drinks with a person of the opposite sex other than one’s spouse.
What this suggests to me is twofold: this country is marching towards puritanism at a faster pace than I thought and sex is still too much part of the conversation. Not to mention how irksome it is to see that women are still considered, by implication, temptresses, and men weak morons.
How exactly are we supposed to advance in the workplace, for instance, if a quarter of the population feels it’s inappropriate to have a one on one meeting with a boss of the opposite sex; or a lunch or dinner with same boss or a colleague?
In an interesting op-ed in last Sunday’s NY Times Susan Chira summed up months of interviews with women who climbed all the way to (almost) the top: the number twos who never made it to number one, looking for commonalities and unifying threads. The reasons for their failure appear to be many and varied and they do include being shut out of those stereotypical boys’ clubs like golf games and drinks after work. But something Ellen Kullman, former chief executive of DuPont, said struck me:
“We (women) are never taught to fight for ourselves. I think we tend to be brought up thinking that life’s fair, that you thrive and deliver, and the rest will take care of itself. It actually does work for most of your career. It doesn’t work for the last couple of steps.”
The implication of such a sentence is that, at the very top, it’s not even a catfight but a bloodbath and we are not prepared for it.
That, as women, we are mostly encouraged to be fair, more subdued and less in your face, is still true. What is prized in a man is not necessarily sought after in a woman. I believe it is a fair assessment that we are not taught how to fight like men, to encourage ruthlessness, to zero in on the prize and go for it no matter what, or who, we leave in our wake.
I also believe that we are asked to fight too many battles, on too many fronts: besides the basic prejudices and the assumptions that we are weaker, hormonal and prone to tears, we have to make sure we don’t come across as too flirtatious, lest we become too tempting. We need to learn to modulate our voices so we don’t come across as shrill. We have to lean in but not too forcefully. We need to find the right balance between family and work. And, to top it all off, we need to employ weapons we are not comfortable handling.
That we have come this far is a miracle of multi-tasking and ingenuity. Time for the opposite sex to come meet us half way. And time for us to get out of our way and perpetuating the myth that being alone with a man can only end in disaster.