This week’s Fix It Or Forget It? column is a salute – and challenge – to women in the workplace. If you’re a Maddict, then this week’s Mad Men episode may have been very disconcerting . . . particularly the final scene. Have things changed much since 1965?
Joan, Peggy and Faye work in the same company, all at different professional levels. By the end of the day, both their professional and personal lives weigh heavily on their minds. Each of them has toiled hard to get where she is at her position at the company, and is the only woman to do so thus far. Yet, they are far from friends and make a point not even to have chit chat in the elevator (where this scene takes place).
Invisible lines are drawn everywhere to keep them apart. Indeed, in a previous episode, when Peggy attempts to cross a line and offer a hand of friendship to Joan, she is shocked when Joan rebukes and later chides her, explaining that Peggy’s actions will only serve to further diminish both of them in the eyes of the men at the company. She clearly doesn’t make the same mistake again.
Fast forward a bit more than a decade to 1977. A very popular book, Games Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship for Women explained the (man’s) business world to women as some sort of foreign land we were visiting, with this as the guide book. Among the directions, language deciphering and wardrobe tips included explicit instructions not to reduce your perceived professional value by associating with women – such as eating lunch or socializing after hours – who rank below you. Adopting a successful man as your mentor was high on the list of advisable things to do in this book.
Although we’d like to think that things have progressed a great deal for women’s careers, the Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that, despite the fact that women make up the majority of fund raisers in our profession (75%), this percentage isn’t even remotely reflected in the amount of women who are chief development officers (52%). The numbers dwindle further as the organizations’ size and budgets increase.
Recently, Olive* shared a story with me about how things haven’t changed very much at her workplace:
Not too long ago, her (woman) director asked her to assist interviewing major gift officer candidates. After speaking to the several finalists and reviewing their resumes, Olive discovered that her director agreed that X (a woman) was clearly the strongest, most qualified applicant.
However, her director said she would be offering the position to Y (a man) instead, specifically due to his gender, because she felt that
• the [mostly male] major donors being approached would prefer dealing with a man
• the [mostly male] board and [male] CEO probably wanted her to hire a man in the position
Olive was surprised at this and asked if she had been told by leadership to “hire a man.” No, but her director felt that it was implied, expected or preferred, nonetheless.
Olive pointed out some of candidate Y’s weaknesses, such as his reasons given for being laid off. In this economy, they could be understandable, of course, but she thought they warranted following up, and were one of several points that made candidate X stronger.
It became obvious, though, that she really wasn’t being consulted at all, and Olive stopped giving any feedback after that.
“It gave me a new insight into the hiring process that I hadn’t considered . . . and made me feel embarrassingly ignorant and naive!” Olive told me. “After that, I began networking a great deal more!”
Olive discussed this particular situation with me recently, after reading a different Chronicle of Philanthropy story earlier this summer, related to sexual harassment in the fund raising workplace. It seems that a small, initial post opened the floodgates, resulting in a live online discussion, followed by several stories and anonymous testimonies.
“So, on the one hand,” Olive said, irritatingly, “Women shouldn’t have these positions because men aren’t comfortable working with them, but on the other hand, we should fear or avoid working in these positions because we might get attacked?! That’s some choice! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!”
Several points the article made again and again were how isolated women felt in these positions and the lack of support there was. For example, the women who agreed to be interviewed for the Chronicle stories said they did so because they wanted to help others . . . and they had found no assistance – online or elsewhere – when they went seeking for it themselves.
Women would do well to make better use of networking and mentoring whenever possible, rejecting the seclusion and insulation that comes with whatever assignments their positions compel. While social media makes it possible to network online, meeting in person is important, too.
Especially as we rise through the ranks, it’s important to keep in touch with one another – across the various strata that can become constructed. Joining professional societies and organizations is one way. You can also ask someone you respect to be your mentor in an area you would like to improve, and offer to assist someone with skills that you have in another area.
This week is the 29th anniversary of Sandra Day O’Connor being confirmed as the first woman on the Supreme Court in 1981. It took us a dozen years later (and four more judges) for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to be the second woman in 1993. Sixteen more years (and four more judges) until Sonia Sotomayor became the third in 2009.
If we cross those invisible lines, and all get to know more women better, many barriers can be lifted sooner. Will you Fix It Or Forget It?
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown