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Fighting gender fatigue

Sometimes the things we talk about most are the slowest to change.

Gender-parity work, or the goal of increasing women's representation as leaders, is no exception. We hear a lot about the wage gap, women's low numbers in top roles and various analogies for the barriers that exist.

In fact, women have never taken center stage more than now. Just look at the stories told by headlines of major mainstream publications from the last year, which included "The End of Men" and "Women and Work: We Did It!" Even a slightly older headline highlights women's new place in the world: "Forget China, India and the Internet: Economic Growth is Driven by Women."

There's a lot of talk, a lot of summits and meetings; and yet, companies aren't moving the needle when it comes to engaging women at the top. Just last month, research entity Catalyst updated its metrics on women leaders, showing that just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. It also highlighted that women's numbers have stagnated on boards, with women holding just 15 percent of board seats among the Fortune 500.

So when will these outmoded patterns actually cease to persist? What's stopping the real culture change from taking hold?

Some theories maintain that women get close to the top, look around and then decide that the top role is no longer appealing. Executive positions can require a lifestyle, rigidity and level of conformity that's repellent. In the words of a female executive I recently heard speaking on a women's leadership panel, "I don't care what you say. In the top ranks, it's still a man's world."

Others see gender discrimination as the reason why we're not experiencing change. Elisabeth Kelan, a scholar on gender in organizations, notes the shifting appearance of this workplace inequity. "The nature of gender discrimination has changed, moving from being blatant to being more subtle. The latter is much harder to detect and act upon. This does not mean that blatant gender discrimination has gone away―but subtle forms of gender discrimination are very common experiences in the workplace today, yet rarely expressed as such."

The phenomenon Kelan describes is called "gender fatigue," a state where people, as a default, tend to perceive their workplaces as gender neutral. Gender discrimination is seen as happening elsewhere or as incidents of the past that would not happen today. Most people don't want to believe that they work in and support a discriminatory workplace (or that they themselves discriminate), so they justify and rationalize that the discrimination doesn't exist.

I contend that the bystander effect is also at play. The more people there are in a given situation, the more we diffuse responsibility and assume "someone else will handle it." Many people know that gender inclusion is an issue, but think it's someone else's job or that another person is tackling it. Building on this observation, Bain & Company, along with Harvard Business Review, conducted a survey early this year that highlighted the levels of interest in parity work. They found that more than 70 percent of employees believe gender parity programs are failing. However, 84 percent of women surveyed believe that gender parity should be a strategic imperative for their company; while only 48 percent of men agree.

At a time when companies are looking for any unturned stone to improve their financials, it seems like idiocy not to leverage women. Study after study documents that companies with more gender-balanced leadership teams see better financial results. And yet even in this economy, we find ourselves at a standstill. If the inclusion argument was not enough of a reason to increase women's proportion, I thought surely the business case would get CEOs' attention.

If creating more inclusive workplaces seems like pushing a boulder up a mountain, it doesn't have to be. Social psychologists know that similarity plays a major role in choosing those we like, a fact that can drive selection and promotion decisions more than we think. So companies can start by implementing one simple yet important change to combat gender fatigue and groupthink: ensure that decision making committees--who decide on promotions, for example--are diverse and representative of the larger workforce.

When we become desensitized to gender inequities in this country, we start to look the other way. Too easily we forget that the decision-making authority of many large, powerful entities currently rests with a select demographic.

If the conversation around fair pay and equal representation seems like it's getting tired, imagine how old it sounds to women.

By Selena Rezvani

 |  October 29, 2010; 1:51 PM ET
Category:  A leader's team , CEOs , Compensation , Corporate leadership , Organizational Culture , Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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America has had enough "feminism."
When will people see the disgusting effects of this terrible ideology?
We can argue against it without GOD'S word for word reasons that women are best suited for running the home.
What ever happened to women being PROUD TO BE WOMEN and PROUD of their distinct ability to DO WHAT MEN CAN NOT?
WOMEN, STOP letting these de-feminizing creeps tell you what you should and shouldn't desire.
It's time you re-took the helm of the home, and show the world, the only way to raise up the best generations of the best children is for women to get back in the home, taking care of them, and making sure their MEN have no reason to abandoned them.
What's FEMINISM done for you and your world?
1) IT is the number one supporter of PORNOGRAPHY. Gee what a great portrayal of women that's turned out to be. Basically, amounting to radical, terrorist style treatment, forced drug and alcohol abuse, abuse and torture of women. And then we wonder where on earth our young men get the ideas to beat and kill more women?
2) IT is the number one supporter of killing more women then ANY OTHER ENTITY OR ISSUE. We cannot fathom how many great women, how many great things we have lost to the aborted female species, all under the guise of; "woman's rights?"
3) IT is the number one supporter, (DEMANDER) of homosexuality, making pansies of men, shrinking the pool of available men and creating scores of ugly, DEPRESSED, obese, angry and embittered lesbians.
And what does that "terrible" God tell us about women?
DEMANDS MEN TREAT THEM WITH RESPECT. And feminists say, "How dare you allow God's ideas dictate anything for women." He insists they are highly needed in the home to make the home functional and respectable.
Of course, the feminists cloud your image of what God says by getting you to believe it would mean a return to bad policies, fewer rights, etc.
Sorry folks, as He told us, HE allowed such things as DIVORCE, not as His policy, but, QUOTE: "Because of the hardness of man's heart."
In other words, He allowed a feminist ideology ONLY because mankind demanded it. Maybe, just maybe, it's time women realized, God has always been on their side, and of all entities, NOTHING OR NO ONE ELSE demands more respect for women from the world then HIM and HIS WAYS.
But we can't have that, after all, look at what man's ideas have done for women and the family. With all time highs of in home abuse, out of control children, divorce, etc. feminists have those they hate the most, (WOMEN) right they want them.

Posted by: BarrytheMUSLIMObama | November 3, 2010 6:57 AM
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So, gender discrimination is "becoming more subtle". Translation: I will always be a dirty stinking sexist no matter what I do. Will anything short of suicide be enough?

Posted by: EnjoyEverySandwich | November 2, 2010 8:02 PM
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I'll cosign this comment by pamschuh9

"Women leave work to have babies, then they return for a while; but they're always arriving to work late or leaving early for this or that baby-issue - The greatest inequality is that childless workers never get 6 to 8 weeks off to pursue their interests, baby or otherwise; Every worker should demand 8 weeks off, baby or not."

Why is there no discussion of a push for gender equality in the ranks of sanitation workers, construction work, sewage treatment, etc?

The main reason for this is choice. If you like having babies and leaving early to spend time with your kids, there's nothing wrong with that, but you shouldn't expect to paid or rewarded for that. A higher proportion black kids vs other kids in this country don't like to take high level math or hard sciences. Also, a higher proportion of American kids vs kids in other countries don't like taking high level math or hard sciences. Obviously the groups with less kids choosing the hard education required will be less represented in jobs like engineering. That is their choice.

Posted by: PersonL | November 2, 2010 5:22 PM
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Mark004, did it ever occur to you that more men are laid off BECAUSE THEY MAKE MORE MONEY THAN WOMEN AND ALWAYS HAVE?
Therefore, if you want to improve the bottom line, you lay off the most expensive people.

Go back to your knitting.

It has nothing to do with that. Men are disproportionately more likely to be concentrated in the areas of the economy that are doing poorest at the moment like construction.

Posted by: moebius22 | November 2, 2010 2:34 PM
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Mark004, did it ever occur to you that more men are laid off BECAUSE THEY MAKE MORE MONEY THAN WOMEN AND ALWAYS HAVE?
Therefore, if you want to improve the bottom line, you lay off the most expensive people.

Go back to your knitting.

Posted by: washerwoman | November 2, 2010 1:10 PM
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I think I'm missing something. Where are all the companies started by women and staffed by women? The Fortune 500 are listed soley by company value, so why haven't any companies run by women made it all the way to the top?

When companies run by women start knocking off Fortune 500 companies from the list, then they will be taken seriously. But for the present, women can't do it alone- they need companies run by men to let them in.

Posted by: LeeH1 | November 2, 2010 11:44 AM
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It's simple; if I'm not winning under the present rules, change them so I can't lose.

Posted by: potaboc | November 2, 2010 7:46 AM
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Feminism stopped being about equality a long time ago blasmaic. It's more about female supremacy and entitlement now, than anything.

Posted by: moebius22 | October 31, 2010 5:20 PM
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"Too easily we forget that the decision-making authority of many large entities currently rests with a select demographic"

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believes in gender diversity is not the objective. She wants to see nine women on the Supreme Court. Her reasoning is that there have been nine men on the court for centuries.

I believe in gender diversity. It is not progressive to disqualify a man or anyone else from serving simply because of sex.

It's surprising to see someone who has benefitted from diversity turn her back on it and advocate for eliminating an entire gender from representation on the high court.

Posted by: blasmaic | October 31, 2010 4:51 PM
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Some stats say men are the ones who are most likely unemployed now. Women are the ones most likely to get an advanced degree. Personally I think this is a mute issue. In 10 years most companies with high ranking positions are going to have women because of sheer numbers of women who have the credentials compared to men.

That's the truth. Unfortnaely ,we rarely get this additional perpsective from mainstream Op-eds.

Women are outstripping men in almost every area of achievement.

Posted by: moebius22 | October 31, 2010 3:37 PM
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No one here has mentioned the role of the greater acceptance of prostitution, strip clubs, and other sexual entertainment in the business world today. It sounds like brothels, lap dance clubs etc. are actually doing a lot of business with important men. It makes sense that that type of place could be seen as conducive to getting some sort of deal because it is a place you wouldn't want to admit to being, sort of a secret, and there are possibilities of blackmail. Plus in terms of kickbacks, bribes etc. you probably get more per $1,000 then you would for cash. But they wouldn't want to bring female colleagues or even tell them were they went so the more that that type of establishment is accepted in the organization, probably the harder for women to be around certain business functions.

Posted by: kay_sieverding | October 30, 2010 9:48 PM
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I would love to see a study done on how supportive female managers are to other female employees. Perhaps I've been unlucky, but the worst bosses I ever had were women. They routinely attempted to steal credit for my work, steal my ideas, and would actively slander me with flat out lies to senior management. (I CYA a lot with saved voice mails and e-mail correspondence.) They would also fawn over their male hires, and treat me like a secretary, even when I was doing professional, specialized work and was senior to the male hires they adored. If there are fewer females at the top, it may be because the glass ceiling is reinforced by the women who managed to get above it.

I would also like to see the difference in pay offered during salary negotiations between offering to male and female employees. I'm not afraid to bargain for what I'm worth (I do my research), but one job I was at hired at the same time as a young man who had less experience than I did. I subsequently found out he was offered $15K more than I was (which was well over the regional and national average for the type of position with his level of experience).

This was a huge surprise for me because despite hard bargaining, I could only get a marginal raise on my offer. Because what was offered to me was the "starting salary" for everyone at my position and experience level.

I found out later that the woman who offered the salaries was convinced that all women were going to quit as soon as they got married and she would routinely offer them less. (My managers adjusted my pay in two large raises inside a year to bring me up to par with the men in my department, and they had to go over her head to do it. Apparently they had had to do it for most of the women in their department.)

The last job I was laid off from (before I started my own business), the female client informed our project manager that she needed to lay people off for budgetary reasons. Between me and a male colleague who did similar work, she chose me. I found out later from a former colleague (who told me in confidence), it was because she had found out I was getting married in a few weeks, so I'd be "taken care of" if I was laid off. My male colleague "had a family to take care of", so he had to stay.

Except he made a little bit more than I did, and openly admitted he only worked because he didn't feel like staying at home while his high-powered executive wife brought home the primary income. My male managers begged her to change her mind since they didn't want to lose me, but she was determined: since I was a woman getting married, I was going to quit soon anyway. That I had just laid out 8 months of work product and was working on RFP's, while my male colleague had spent the past month watching the World Cup apparently didn't enter into it.

That there's gender fatigue, I have no doubt. Except I'm not quite sure it's the men who are perpetuating it.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 30, 2010 8:00 PM
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women only seek "equality" at the top, and seek rights, not responsibilities. register with the selective service like i had to or face jail

Posted by: scoran | October 30, 2010 9:09 AM
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Wow. The Washington Post women must be very mad about how the Washington Post covers Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell, Meg Whitman, and other women.

Oh, they are not? Shows a lot....

Posted by: Delongl | October 29, 2010 10:20 PM
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Wah! Wah! Wah! It's just plain discrimination that I have to perform at the boss level to be the boss. It's all about me! Not the company.

Posted by: politbureau | October 29, 2010 8:45 PM
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We'll see more women at the top when the boomers leave the workplace. And I suspect that due to the current push for gender equality, when it happens, it's going to be a big swing .

Also, looking at the very top level can be deceiving, it's often soft power positions. Because of this, the level directly below the top can have as much or more power than the top. For instance, my company has 4 female VP and 2 male VP, and each VP has more overall power than the current President. Of course this could be an aberration... but it's all I've known.

I suspect that if this were taken into account your numbers would shift drastically. Probably not to full 50/50 equality, but much closer.

Side questions:
Why just CEO and board members?
Why not CFO, CPO, etc.?

Posted by: Bulldeazy | October 29, 2010 7:45 PM
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Quit whinning selena, 75% of those layed off during this reccesion have been men. Not to mention the fact that there are fields such as HR and Nursing where there is very little male participation. Has it dawned on you that the dems are going to lose these mid terms because they have pandered to females and minorities, and did not care about the jobless men in this country? Go back to your knitting..

Posted by: mark0004 | October 29, 2010 5:32 PM
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You are oversimplifying the concept of maternity leave. First of all, maternity leave is still an optional benefit that companies can choose to offer their staff. It is nice if you can get it, but it can't be expected. If you want 8 weeks off to pursue your interests (again, oversimplifyig having a baby), negotiate that at the time you accept a job. But hopefully sometime during those 8 weeks you will do something for others, like voluteer at a soup kitchen or collect food for a food bank. Having a baby means putting somebody else's (substantial) needs before yours. If you don't think that deserves some time off work, find another company that doesn't offer this generous benefit to their staff.

In case you weren't aware, having a child is considered a medical procedure. You, too, are allowed to take time off for medical reasons or to take care of immediate family members. It is calld FMLA and at my company, maternity leave is used parallel to FMLA. That means however long you are out (I was out 6 weeks with my kid), you use that much of your alloted FML.

Posted by: itsme1 | October 29, 2010 5:09 PM
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as latinos are jumping ahead of the line in front of blacks...
so are trangenders jumping to the head of the line in front of women...

Posted by: DwightCollins | October 29, 2010 5:06 PM
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ompa lumpa doopity doo, I got another lesson for you!

Posted by: pejochum | October 29, 2010 4:50 PM
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Women leave work to have babies, then they return for a while; but they're always arriving to work late or leaving early for this or that baby-issue - The greatest inequality is that childless workers never get 6 to 8 weeks off to pursue their interests, baby or otherwise; Every worker should demand 8 weeks off, baby or not.

Posted by: pamschuh9 | October 29, 2010 4:40 PM
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There is also the situation where certain people simply keep their positions by doing everything they can to disadvantage anyone who may seem more competent.

Sometimes women do this as well as men. Unfortunately, position often comes down to who fights the dirtiest, not relevant to the general benefit of the company. In otherwords many people care more about themselves than they do the company's welfare.

When the economy is bad this becomes more pronounced since many people are simply fighting for survival.

Posted by: commentator2 | October 29, 2010 4:30 PM
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gender inequalities? I'm sorry but this always irritates me. Some stats say men are the ones who are most likely unemployed now. Women are the ones most likely to get an advanced degree. Personally I think this is a mute issue. In 10 years most companies with high ranking positions are going to have women because of sheer numbers of women who have the credentials compared to men. I'm just sick of the complaining. It also is telling that your stats are people's opinions rather than decisions, salaries, positions, and hiring numbers.

Posted by: randers001104 | October 29, 2010 4:20 PM
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For many reasons including biology, women leave the workforce much more frequently then men. It's unfair therefore to see gender bias when companies are just acting in accordance with who is present to get the work done. The proof of that is when women put off children, they tend to advance often even more quickly then men. Is it always fair that women are stuck with kids or taking off work? No, but that's the choices people are making in a free society.

Posted by: magnifco1000 | October 29, 2010 4:16 PM
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