CROSSING GENDER LINES IN THE FIGHT FOR GENDER EQUALITY
by Carmen J. Colson
As one headline after another alleges sexual misconduct against women by some of the most powerful men in our society and the fact that it will be 2059 before women are paid equally to men at the current rate of the gender pay gap (even longer for women of color), women have some real reasons to be angry…mad…downright furious. As good as “man-hating” might feel these days, women must be mindful not to lose sight of the reality that men (the good ones) can be valuable allies in the fight for equality and fair treatment in the workplace and beyond. There are men – fathers, brothers, friends, colleagues – who understand that gender equality is not a “woman” issue, but a human one. These “feMANists,” “man-vocates,” “man-bassadors” – whatever you choose to call them – do exist and the war for equality should be waged with, not against them. The fair treatment of women, eradicating sexual misconduct and closing the gender pay gap are everyone’s issues.
We have come a long way, but it remains true that 95% of CEOs of S&P 500 companies are men and 81% percent of equity partners in law firms are men. As long as this is true, women cannot advance corporately without the support of those CEOs and equity partners who understand why the fair treatment of women, eradicating sexual misconduct and closing the gender pay gap are important to their business. Sadly, women still choose to negotiate less often, and are better at negotiating for others than for themselves. On the other hand, if they are assertive negotiators, they are penalized for being too aggressive, unlikeable or everyone’s favorite – the “B” word.
Of course, there is no substitute for being your own advocate for professional growth, but there is nothing wrong with enlisting a team (or an army) of those already in leadership to help us carry the flag – even if they are men. Having a team of man-vocates - male colleagues in leadership who support women for promotion, for challenging work, and pay equity - can penetrate the boardrooms and C-suites on behalf of women in ways that we have either not been allowed to or may have been reluctant to. These “man-vocates” are smart enough to know that getting a job done well has nothing to do with gender. And they are humane (and sane) enough not to expect us to do it in our underwear – or assume that we want to see them in theirs.
This is more than a general belief that corporations and law firms should recruit women professionals. Real advocates for women dig in and adopt women’s causes as their own – maybe because they have a wife, a daughter or granddaughter, but mostly because they understand that good business demands it. A study published by the University of California, Davis in 2016 revealed that of the 400 largest public companies headquartered in California, the firms with the highest percentage of women executives and board members had median returns on assets and equity that were at least 74% higher than the overall group of companies surveyed. Having women in the board room, the courtroom and the executive suite is flat out better business.
But even now, in a new era of women’s empowerment, we can and should partner with men to improve the personal and professional lives of women. We should align with men who “get it” to create a pipeline for women that ensures there are ample women candidates for leadership positions when they become available. Women and men must report incidents of harassment or sexual misconduct when they see it, instead of looking the other way. The damage created by the unfair treatment of women is simply too great for women to shoulder the burden of change alone – nor should we.
“Man-hating” is all good when directed towards the ones who deserve it (thank you for the outlet, Mr. Weinstein). But women should be careful not to throw the good men (the ones who “get it”) out with the sexual predators, good ol’ boys and enablers. There are men in leadership who want to see the fair treatment of women as much as we do. It’s not women versus men. It’s right versus wrong – regardless of gender. Women and men must work together to right the wrongs against women.
Carmen Colson is a WLALA Member.