There are a number of generalizations about women which are a huge source of frustration, irritation even. Some sadly are even iterated by women. They have become shorthand for broader statements but are either incorrect or over simplifications of nuanced situations. Whatever the reason they are embedded in our thinking which is not only unhelpful, but can be damaging.
It’s time to deconstruct these sweeping generalizations about women.
5 Frustrating Generalizations about Women
Women don’t need fixing
This has become one of those clichés which is bandied around without much thought to any wider implications. The message is that organisations are male coded and it’s the infra structure and culture that need to change. This is patently true.
It’s out of wack on at least three levels.
- It supposes all women are the same with identical “female” skills which is patently incorrect.
- It implies that women should wait to be taken care of by the “system” and the system will fix itself.
- It confuses personal development with “fixing.”
When the “stop fixing women” brigade group all women together it only serves to embed bias and stereotypes even further. If a man needed personal development he would never say he needed fixing. So why say that about women? In that case some men also need “fixing.” The World Economic Forum tells us that it will take 169 years for organic change to occur. Both men and women have skills on a spectrum. Everyone will be different and we all need a bit of “fixing” in different ways.
Women need to enlist the support of alpha males
It is clear that both men and women need to work together. But male CEOs have been enlisted for support in many companies for a while now and the needle is not moving. Sad but true, men are not voluntarily doing the “right” thing even when the business case suggests that it’s the best way to go. Many organizations are starting to introduce KPIs and relate bonuses to gender equality goals. Gender parity drives are also meeting resistance at middle management level. Even Google, who we all thought were at the top end of the league, are being investigated in the U.S. for their “extreme gender pay gap”
Women cannot rely exclusively on the support of men, but will also have to pro-actively self-advocate otherwise we are going back to the days when we expected men to take care of us. And we know how well that has worked. In the current climate with a significant rise in misogyny in the media and public arenas it is becoming increasingly necessary to be self-reliant.
Women are over-mentored
In a recent post on this topic I suggested that this phrase is a significant generalisation and over simplification. Not all women are over mentored. There are a significant number of women working in SMEs with neither sponsors or mentors. And women in large organisations are possibly not getting the same type of mentoring as their male colleagues. That’s something we need to change.
90% of European businesses are SMEs and all research is conducted in large multi-national organisations. For Ms Average the chances of having any kind of mentor are slim.
Women want to be authentic
One of the generalizations about women I hear that I don’t really understand is that they want to be “authentic”. It suggests that organisations are only authentic for men which is not always the case. Women don’t have the monopoly on a desire for authenticity.
Authenticity has different meanings to all of us individually and is open to interpretation. It is also a much overused expression. Organizations and relationships of any kind are forged on compromise which suggests (based on our personal understanding of authenticity,) we all usually have to make concessions on a daily basis. I might be frustrated by someone’s position on something, but cannot express it in the way I may want to (my personally authentic way) because my version of authenticity( strangling someone warmly by the throat for example) may not be perceived as constructive.
This is why it critical to work in places which are in line with our core values and to make wise career choices. Increasingly employers have public mission statements which reflect their business values and vision, but very often the real message is what is not stated. It’s therefore important for anyone considering a job offer to carry out thorough research and due diligence. Corporate fit is a two-way street today.
Women aren’t ambitious or competitive
Are you kidding?
Some women aren’t ambitious or competitive it is true. But many women are extremely ambitious and have the same goals and ambitions as men. Research from Boston Consulting Group indicates that women are just as ambitious as men at the start of their careers but this falters in organizations with poor gender balance initiatives and results.
The study of 200,000 employees, including 141,000 women from 189 countries, identified that women were just as ambitious as men at the outset and companies were at fault for blocking this, not family status or motherhood. The findings suggest employees aged under 30, there was little difference, but women’s ambition dropped off faster than men’s at companies lagging on gender diversity. The report suggests that there was almost no ambition gap between women and men aged 30 to 40 at firms where employees felt gender diversity was improving with 85% of women seeking promotion compared with 87% of men.
Matt Krentz, a BCG senior partner and co-author of the report, says
“Both genders are equally ambitious and equally rational. Ambition is not a fixed trait; it is an attribute that can be nurtured or damaged over time through the daily interactions and opportunities employees experience at work.”
Yet another reason to strengthen the female talent pipeline and avoid generalizations about women.