Gender gap: others’ rights versus others’ needs

By Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.

Natasha Josefowitz

LA JOLLA, California — According to the Center for American Women and Politics, of the 535 seats in Congress, women occupy 104. Women represent a quarter of the state legislators, 12 percent of state governors, and 18.4 percent of mayors. Of the Standard and Poor Fortune 500 companies, women hold less than a third of executive and senior level positions, one fifth of all board seats, and are only 5 percent of all CEOs—yet women earn 57 percent of the bachelor’s degrees, 59.9 percent of the Masters’ degrees, and 51.8 percent of the doctorates, according to the 2016 National Center for Education Statistics. In 2016, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, found that these disparities are not true only in the U.S. Across the globe, women hold less than a quarter of senior-level positions and one third of businesses have no women at all in senior management.

There are, of course, many reasons for these statistics.  Let’s examine a few.

Close your eyes and picture this: A professor is coming down the hall of a university…. Who do you see? Now envision a doctor coming into a patient’s hospital room…. Who do you see? There is a large desk in a corporate office…. Who is behind it?

If your first reaction was to envision men, that is, in fact, the problem. When people are asked to name attributes of a good man, a good woman, and a good leader, the man and the leader share similar attributes, not the woman. Managers are associated with masculine traits. This is a conceptual problem.

People tend to trust those most like themselves, people whose view of the world and whose behaviors are familiar. Since most of the decision-makers are still men, they will tend to trust and like other men, which puts women at risk for not being selected to lead.

These attitudes lead, in turn, to a pipeline problem: there is a scarcity of women in mid-level positions to go on to fill senior leadership roles, and many of the women who are mid-level managers do not continue on to senior levels.

Each gender has different tendencies regarding not just which people fit into which role, but also how to view the world and the work which needs to be done. Many men (not all) have a propensity to see the world in terms of the rights of others; for them, it is about justice, competition, and power. Many women (again, not all) see the world in terms of the needs of others. They respond using cooperation, bridging, and relationships. This is one of reasons it is difficult for men and women to walk in each other’s shoes.

This relates to an important contributor to the lack of women in power positions which is not being addressed and cannot be unless there are major changes in corporate structure. Many women are mothers and have difficulty leaving their babies and children in the care of others or are judged harshly if they do. (While fathers, largely, do not feel this.) Some women have opted out of the work force, preferring to take care of their families. Some have interrupted their careers to stay home with infants. So men have a smoother path to promotion; they don’t feel ambivalence about choosing career over family. When we have cribs and provide childcare in offices, when fathers go home from work to tend to a sick child, there will be opportunity for real change. In addition, as the population ages, more elderly parents will require help from their working adult children, and that role falls more often to daughters (or even daughters-in-law), than sons. It is a wonder how many women do make it to senior positions considering the extra burdens they shoulder.

There are other ways of perceiving the world besides the obvious, familiar ones of gender bias and discrimination. So how do we break down these age-old, unconscious prejudices against women in power positions? By becoming conscious of our own biases and working against them. It is only when we become aware of the motives and behaviors that unknowingly control us that we can truly have choices and make rational decisions.

© Natasha Josefowitz. This article appeared initially in the La Jolla Village News. You may comment to [email protected]


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