Factoring In the Male Factor

Last month was the 47th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and women are still suing for wage and gender discrimination - e.g. the Novartis award in May(see prior post), and also the class action suit against WalMart that got the go-ahead last month.

So, why 40 years later are women still behind in compensation, too few in the executive suite and experiencing blatant discrimination?

Surely, there are things about us that need addressing. For example, as I discuss in No Ceiling, No Walls, women must effectively speak the language of business to counter the stereotype that we don't have business acumen. As discussed by Shaunti Feldhahn in The Male Factor, there are communication and attire issues to attend to.

But there is one factor that's substantively dropped off the radar screen - direct action by men to confront the impact of their positive and negative stereotypes about women and men. (For example, the positive stereotype that men have more business acumen is as powerful a force against women as the negative stereotype that women are more emotional. This is because people are unlikely to seek contrary evidence to their beliefs.)

In the 1970s, cutting edge corporations tackled attitudes head on until. By virtue of their ages, many of the women who have become F500 CEOs were the beneficiaries of mentoring and promotions by men whose eyes were opened to the impact of gender stereotypes - whether through corporate programs or in the general media. Soon, though the mantra "don't mess with people's attitudes, just focus on behaviors" put an end to these efforts.

A reflection of this has been the nature of diversity training. Today, many diversity training programs tackle general concepts of inclusion for all groups (addressing as one conceptual lump age, gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation) instead of carefully examining group-specific stereotypes and assumptions. I believe that this is why the status of women of color has been particularly slow to change.

There is more robust research now than 40 years ago; research that could be used to address gender-based attitudes. For example, in addition to advising women how to work in male-dominated environments, it would be powerful to use the excellent research of The Male Factor to examine the beliefs that men hold. For example, most men believe that when one is emotional s/he can't also be logical. Brain research suggests that this is true for men, but not for women.

If you play a leadership role in your organization's women's initiative, consider adding work on stereotypes to the good work that you're already doing.

On another note, where have I been the past month? I went to Antigua and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to make connections with several women's cooperatives. Keep your eyes peeled for an innovative leadership development program coming from Leading Women.

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls. She blogs on networking for PINK Magazine. Follow her on Twitter.
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