The war on women… in the workplace

30 June 2014
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MANILA, Philippines – As I sit typing this, anger is spewing out of every keystroke.

Anger at my fellow man. Or “men,” I should say.

In case nobody has noticed, there is an all-out war going on against women. All over the place.

Don’t believe it? Well, you may want to remove your head from the sand and take a look around.

Two hundred girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage in Nigeria, in a village I once traveled to when I worked there. They haven’t been found and the world has suddenly forgotten them. It’s now illegal in Nigeria to even demonstrate for them! When was the last time we heard of 200 boys being kidnapped and forced into marriages?

A woman in Pakistan is stoned to death by her own family for marrying someone she loved, instead of marrying the man they had chosen for her. It’s called “honor killing” and is legal in many places. When did we last hear of a man being killed by his family for choosing a wife on his own?

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A friend of mine last week asked me to help one of her friends by giving her some therapy advice for rehabilitating a fractured elbow. The woman is a highly educated optometrist and mother of a toddler, juggling a professional life, motherhood, and being a loyal spouse. What happened? Well, she was beaten by her husband and sustained the fracture when she was knocked down the stairs. No charges, no justice. She is still living at home and now faces an uphill rehabilitation battle to regain full use of her arm.

Several months ago an acquaintance was sexually assaulted by two of her “friends” at a celebration in a prominent resort. No charges have been filed despite widespread “bragging” by the men involved, even on social media. Meanwhile, a wonderful person is left traumatized and depressed and hoping the passage of time will make the pain subside.

Women’s advocacies contend that crimes against women — including rape and incest — are widely unreported and far more prevalent than statistics would suggest. I have to agree. I must know of at least a dozen women I am close to who all suffered abuse as children at the hands of family or friends. In every case, to avoid shame and family turmoil, the crimes were left unreported. Justice was never served.

Yes, there is a war going on each and every day against women. It’s horrendous. As a man, it’s downright shameful. And it’s irrefutable. Anyone who suggests we live in an age of “gender equality” simply doesn’t have a firm grasp on reality.

All of this sobering data begs the question: “What about women in the workplace?” Does this “war” extend into the office?

You bet it does.

The workplace is simply a microcosm of society. So yes, unfortunately the war on women does indeed exist in the office. It may be more subtle, and the weapons used a bit different, but there is no doubt in my mind this same war on women goes on every day in work locations around the world.

Twice in the past few years, I have had human resources leaders, when asked, “Why do we have a low level of women in the sales organization?” respond to me, “Well, Jim, women are not well-suited to sales jobs. This is a man’s work.”

What rubbish. I have found in most cases that women, by virtue of having high social intelligence (“EQ”) are better salespeople than the average male. In many of my past CEO roles, my leading salespeople were women! What’s scary about this is that this warped view came from the Human Resources function, which should be the bastion of defending diversity and equality in the workplace!

I have seen many cases of women being judged as “poor leaders” in performance reviews simply because they lead with a different style than the testosterone-laced approach of fist pounding and chest thumping. However, they get the results just the same. But with men making the assessment, and style wrongly trumping substance, they get the lower performance rating.

And, unfortunately, I have had multiple cases of outright sexual harassment in the past, including direct pressure to yield to the advances of a male superior in exchange for job perks. I have never fired anyone so quickly or so brutally as those men involved in these cases.

Yes, indeed, the war on women that we see each day in the papers does indeed exist in the office. It may be more nuanced, more subtle. But it is war nonetheless. And it is wrong.

Those of us in leadership positions have an obligation to make society a better place, and this means impacting where we have the most influence, and this is in our operations. And we can start with three simple steps:

1. Actively promote diversity. Call diversity out as a strategy of the organization. Diversity is a source of competitive advantage by challenging the status quo and bringing fresh thinking and ideas to the forefront. Set targets. Actively recruit women into key roles. Challenge paradigms such as “This is a role for men.” Lean forward and promote women and create a generation of role models.

2. Focus on substance vs. style. Set performance evaluations as objectively as possible by looking at hard data and results. Lessen the role for subjective evaluations of individual style, which skew towards the status quo winning out. Realize there are many means to achieving your business results, and focus on the end-result vs. the styles employed.

3. Deal decisively with the “old school.” Have a zero-tolerance policy. Those who advocate the concept of “a man’s job” need to get a quick change of attitude or be shown the door. Any form of abuse or harassment is a straightforward boot out the door. Send a signal that the war on women won’t be tolerated in your operation.

We in business cannot change the world. But we can change our world, and create ripples that can reach far beyond our workplace. We owe it to our organizations, to equality and righteousness, that we create a “ceasefire” in our workplaces.

This is a war that has to end.

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