Being a woman in a man’s world

This will probably be one of many posts that I do over the course of keeping this blog where I comment on how very awful it is being a woman. The stats support it: the amount of money that women make compared to men for doing essentially the same job (the cause is supposedly that woman don’t negotiate enough and don’t know their true worth.) The number of male C-level executives compared to women and the reasons for the discrepancy (amount of time spent in career and disruptions from having children, discrimination, glass ceiling, etc.) The number of women on executive boards versus men. Sometimes it really feels hopeless perhaps not just for me and my own career but the state of the business world as a whole.

The main story on CNN today is what prompts this post: a biography of Vicky Triponey, a female Penn State administrator who frequently stood up to Joe Paterno regarding discipline of his football players. I’ll get back to this later in this post.

The sense of having to fight to be a part of the business world was something most prominently felt, for me, while I was in business schools. Across the board, business schools tend to skew male and the best of diverse programs have at most about 1/3 women to 2/3 men. And numbers aside, what I noticed the most is the fraternity that you just can’t infiltrate. The system is totally set up against you– that you will never be a “bro” and that you will always be overlooked professionally and socially. I also noticed that the most God-awful looking guys felt that they somehow had a right to critique the female student body, the majority I would argue were pretty attractive.

The summer that I spent interning was an example of this: I was in a department with five other interns– all male– and they spent weekends golfing together and I was never invited (although admittedly I hate golf). During meetings, they would spend a good 5-10 minutes discussing sports– a topic that I’m not too keen on. And you may say: hey that’s what guys do. But the truth is: if I was in a group with all females and one male, I would never think to marginalize that one individual by talking about makeup and fashion. I really wouldn’t. And honestly: of all the interns, I was the best. That’s what I truly believe. I was the most talented and the one that worked the hardest, even when I wasn’t getting direct credit. But the guys were good at covering each others’ asses and taking credit for things that they didn’t do. And I always got the sense that not only did I not have a support system but that they were working in collusion to battle me. Yes, perhaps I am just a little bit paranoid.

I have seen studies here and there– some speculative, some based on psychology– about whether men and women lead differently. I don’t have a comprehensive view on this so all I can do is share my opinion based on my life’s experiences. I think that in a lot of cases women understand responsibility differently. Perhaps because they’re typically in the minority, I don’t think women feel the same obligation to support friends’ ideas and perhaps because they have had to work harder than their male counterparts, they don’t feel the same sense of putting relationships above responsibilities. When you earn it, it means something more and as such, I don’t think women are as keen to throw it all away by supporting the numbskull proposals of their friends.

I think, too, that women inherently have a stronger sense of right and wrong and are more vocal about getting involved, despite dirtiness or discomfort. My basis for stating this is those shows on ABC that John Quinones does called, “What Would You Do?” In this program, they set up a scenario in a public place to see if people decide to get involved. For example, if you see a guy leading a clearly drunk woman away– knowing the danger that she may be in in her state– would you step in and stop him? In watching these programs, I noticed one thing: in a majority of the footage, women are the initiators of the dissent. Women are the ones that step in and stop something from escalating. Now, here are a couple of caveats for this analysis. One, a lot of the filming happens in NJ where I do think there tends to be a lot of very loud and opinionated women given the ethnicities and cultures there. If you were to film in Silicon Valley, I don’t know that an old-school Chinese woman would get involved. Two, some of the scenarios are “put yourself in her shoes” so it makes sense that if a scenario is anti-female (involving issues like date rape, mistreatment of a mother with many kids, breastfeeding in public, etc) that a female might be more likely to get involved than a male who cannot relate to the injustice.

The other thing is that women tend to be the “purveyors” of culture– meaning that they tend to be aware of and proponents of doing things in a particular way. Whether it’s because they will be / are mothers and therefore have an understanding of extended influence or are more sensitive and community-centric– I couldn’t really say. On a side note, one of the things that I learned while living in Brazil I think relates to this topic. Brazil was host to Portuguese explorers; Argentina was host to Spanish explorers. However, today: Brazil is very exotic and retains a lot of the culture of the natives whereas Argentina is very noticeably European. In my class, the professor (who was Argentinian) asked us if we knew why this was the case. She then explained that the Portuguese explorers came alone: just men. So they ended up mating with local women and thus the native culture dominated. The Spanish explorers brought whole families, including wives, to Argentina, giving the region a much more European flair. The presence of women was the differentiating factor.

Back to the article about Vicky Triponey and Penn State, this paragraph stands out:

At Penn State, Triponey was among the few who stood up to Paterno, the legendary “JoePa” who for 61 years was synonymous with a football program that pumped millions of dollars into Penn State. And she paid dearly for it. At the end, nobody at the top backed her. And it didn’t seem to matter to anyone whether she was right, or even if she had a point.

Now, I’m sure the world of sports is a special environment– where money and egos reign supreme. But what comes to mind is that just by trying to do the right thing, she was embarrassed and personally attacked (mentioned in later parts of the article). I feel like when a woman stands for something, when the governing body doesn’t have anything legitimate to say against her points, they attack character and engage in intimidation.They have to play some kind of character-assassination game to shut the person up. And I feel like in that state of affairs, the perpetrators feel like they “won” for getting somebody to stand-down whereas after the scandal was exposed and details of the coverup were brought to light, Triponey doesn’t say she feels vindicated or satisfied; she says that it’s just all very sad– because when you’re talking about human lives and devastating outcomes, nobody really wins, a concept that I don’t know that guys tend to subscribe to– at least not the type A, aggressive ones.

I watched an episode of The View at some point in the past year and I believe the guest was Jon Stewart. I’m not totally sure. But either way: the male guest was asked his opinion on the Paterno Penn State scandal and he said something to the effect of: the outcome is the same as what I would expect from any environment where men are left, unchecked, without the influence of women. Look at things that happen at fraternities or any environment where men are given a significant dominant influence and aren’t held to the same expectations of a co-ed environment. Mob rule, mindlessness and silence tend to be the outcome.

So that’s it from me. I don’t know if I melded the two things well– the Paterno thing and the influence of women in the workplace– but I guess my major takeaway is that women do operate differently in the workplace and that there is benefit in letting women have an equal (greater?) say based on this. But there is the realization– from personal experience and workplace facts– that this will likely not be the case for some time. Is it worth fighting something that you kind of know, deep down, you can’t win?



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