Even on the stage of the Short Attention Span theater which is our public consciousness, we can’t get enough of the one-act play “Why Aren’t Women Men?”
We don’t call it that, of course. The play is disguised as a rant on work life balance, a celebration of a woman’s assent to the C-suite, an earnest push to “empower” women to entrepreneurship, or (as I read last night) head-scratching about the corporate career aspirations of young women MBA candidates.
No matter what the specific narrative, the subtext is always the same: why don’t women act like/want to be like/aspire to the same things as men?
As Rob Siegel wrote in a piece that became a guest post on Venture Beat,
Is it because . . . women get ripped apart once they ascend to the public eye? . . . Are Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg really treated more harshly/put under more scrutiny than other tech leaders such as Bill Gates was when he was running Microsoft, than Eric Schmidt and Larry Page when they ran/run Google, or than Jack Welch was he ran GE (they called him Neutron Jack in the early days)?
Is the desire to be a COO genetic disposition/difference between men and women that the former want to lead out in front and the latter want to nurture?
Or, in the “surprising” results of a survey asking women about their attitudes toward work, perhaps it is because:
Stymied in our efforts to advance, confused about how to manage both a full personal life and a promising career, women are asking two questions: “Is it possible?” and “Is it worth it?”
There is always, of course, then answer blogger Sarah Lacy lobbed to a question posed by an attendee at a technology innovation round table a year or so ago, who wanted to know why there weren’t more women in tech leadership roles. Lacy, who was very pregnant at the time, gave a meandering answer about income and achievement parity in twenty-something men and women before finally answering, “I don’t know.” Never mind that she would deliver a more concrete answer about a month later.
We wrestle with the Why Aren’t Women [fill in the blank] question so vigorously that we get wrapped around everything but the obvious answer:
Because Women Aren’t Men.
Would, though, it were that simple. Of course women are different from men. The biology is different. The wiring is different. The motivations are different. That wouldn’t be such a big deal except that everything in our corporate value system is based on how men perceive and achieve in the world of business. Which, it turns out, is also very different from a personal value system based on how women perceive and are perceived by each other and by men. When the two systems are over laid, they are in conflict.
Still, we live in a world where equality has come to mean sameness, rather than fairness, so we believe that women should want what men want, act as men act, achieve as men achieve, want as men want.
Sounds kind of silly when you lay it out that way, but that is, indeed, the way it is. When women – or men, for that matter – attempt to contort themselves into the shape of something they are not, discomfort ensues. Discomfort leads to discontent, discontent to rejection.
Rather than blaming the box, we blame the person who was not comfortable inside it.
Let me be very clear: I believe with all my being that women can be – and many are – exceptional performers in any role or career they chose. Just as men can be. We would find it a step toward the absurd to judge a man on his ability to run a Fortune 500 company while managing the rigors of hearth and home and look good while doing it. When was the last time you read a profile of a male CEO that glossed over the business to instead talk about his well-coordinated outfit, fine shoes, and ability to run the carpool on his way to and from the office? This is how women executives are too often (as in, once is too often) profiled in the media.
Rather than struggle to figure out how women can conform to a standard they did not set, wouldn’t we all be a lot smarter and better off if we used different – not lesser — standards and values to measure performance, achievement, and satisfaction?
When we start evaluating women on their leadership skills, rather than their leading-while-having-a-uterus skills, we might finally see the curtain drop on this silly drama. Until then, we’ll replay the show and wonder why women “can’t get ahead.”