Gender Equity – Myth or Possibility?

The best definition I have ever found regarding the concept of gender equity is “the same opportunities and constraints (for both genders) in full participation of both the economic and domestic realms.”  I will never forget when I first started living on my own and compared my salary to that of certain men in my life. At that time, I never understood why, based on what I made, that I did not get a comparable discount in my expenses. After all if I am making only 66 cents on the dollars (luckily today its moved up to 80 cents on the dollar), then shouldn’t my rent be only two thirds of what a man pays or shouldn’t my grocery bill be only two thirds of what a man pays. Unfortunately that is not the case. So, what’s a girl to do?

To quote a recent article in the Huffington Post written by Heide Grant Halvorseon, PhD., The Trouble With Bright Girls Article “(women) are routinely underestimated, underutilized and even underpaid. Studies show that women need to perform at extraordinarily high levels, just to appear moderately competent compared to male coworkers.”

Ok, ok. I know what you’re thinking. Here is my bra-burning, women’s lib side rearing up its ugly head again. Not really. I have changed my beliefs regarding women’s issues and gender equity from my “we shall overcome” mode to a more “what can each individual woman do to affect the types of changes necessary” mode in my perennial quest to create a more universal environment of gender equity.

The article goes on to suggest a simple change strategy that I feel is important to share. The author surmises that the toughest hurdle we have as women lies within. How we, as women, tend to judge our own abilities more harshly and differently than our male counterparts. Bright young women who identify their self worth and abilities by their intelligence tend to give up more quickly than men when faced with a difficult challenge. They are quicker to self doubt, lose confidence and ergo become less effective learners and problem solvers over time. They start to view difficult challenges as lack of competence (after all, if I am truly smart I should “get this”) versus an energizing prospect.

Don’t we socialize young women to behave and be good little girls and praise them for being smart while we provide young boys, who tend not to sit still and play nice in the sandbox, with feedback to pay attention and try harder.  We tend to create in young women the belief that being smart is something you either are or are not. The article goes on to say that most often, bright girls come to believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice. So “when a problem seemed hard to learn, bright girls were much quicker to doubt their ability… and become less effective learners as a result”.

When was the last time you had a female friend who told you they were not going to apply for a job or promotion because they just weren’t ready – they needed more time to develop the skills needed or more time to gain the knowledge necessary to do the job effectively. I doubt that you would ever hear that comment from a man. Men tend to possess confidence both in what they know and don’t know. They don’t get bogged down in where their “flat spots” are, they simply have the confidence to deal with them when the time comes.

I think this is a great lesson for all women. First, lets create more of that “pay attention and try harder ” mentality in young women. Maybe it is not always in their best interest to be the nice, quiet little girl. After all, the world they will grow up in is certainly not nice and quiet. Second, encourage your female friends to take risks and not doubt their skills and abilities. When they say they are not ready, tell them to try anyway and see how far it takes them. With no risk there is no reward.

In my mind, it is simple strategies such as this that, over time, can help achieve greater gender equity. Whether gender equity can ever be totally achieved, well that is another blog for another time.

The Good Wife’s Guide

What every good woman needs to know. The study of gender equity has been a passion of mine for a long time. Ever since I was a young girl, I can remember questioning why my brother and I were treated differently. It all started after Thanksgiving dinner when I was about 9. The whole family had gathered at my grandmother’s house for the big family meal. After the meal, the men paraded into the living room to watch football while the women paraded into the kitchen to do the dishes. That was the year my mom said to me that I needed to go into the kitchen and help with the dishes. I looked at her and said, ” How come Bob (my brother) doesn’t have to?” She had no answer than to say that was just the way it had to be. And that was the beginning of it all for me.

For the past several years I have spoken across the country on the topic of Women and Leadership. My dear friend Kathy and I developed a training program on the subject about eight years ago after she decided to pursue women’s issues as the focus of her masters thesis. (Kathy is now a City Manager and has passed on the “spreading of the word” of Women and Leadership to me.)  Since then, I have continued to be a student of the subject and am always amazed at what I unearth and how it informs my presentations.

There are real reasons, above and beyond perceptions regarding innate sexual characteristics, that women still face some inequities today. Don’t get me wrong, the strides for gender equity have been enormous, but it is important to look to the past to try to understand why some of the stereotypes still exist today. So, for your enjoyment, I am attaching to the blog the first page of an article I found printed in 1955 in Housekeeping Monthly magazine called “The Good Wife’s Guide”. If you want a copy of the full article, just leave a comment with your email address and I will pass it on.

Back in 1955 we were telling women to do things like: take the time to put make-up on and fix your hair before your husbands come home from work, have dinner on the table and ready and the kids taken care of and out of the way, listen to what he has to say because, after all, “what he has to say is more important”, not to get angry with him if he is late or stays out all night, and the best of all is the last line of the article, “After all, a good wife knows her place.” We were teaching women this in 1955 – not all that long ago.

I have shared this article with many women and men and I can tell you that almost always, the women either laugh or shudder and the men say, “Yeah, that’s the way it should be!”  I shared it with a bunch of friends just recently and will tell you that the xerox machine has been on overdrive with them sending copies out to their friends and family. Its a fun read, but it was also what we were telling women regarding their roles in society.

Bottom line, there are real reasons for some lingering issues we face as women, and this article gives us a small glimpse into how, in the not so distant past, we defined the roles of men and women, but it also shows how far men and women have come in changing those stereotypes.

What Can You Change?

I am on the faculty of a school that will instruct park and recreation professionals on how to start, implement or augment environmental sustainability practices into their departments, agencies and hopefully their communities. Part of the curriculum will be a class on change management taught by moi. I’ve had many opportunities to both learn about the concept of change and to implement change in agencies. Did I do good? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But it took me a long time to figure out what it was that I could or could not change, and the answer was so simple that of course it alluded me for a long time. Hopefully I can make this road easier for others.

Bottom line, it comes down to one simple fact – the only thing you can change is yourself. We spend a lot of time learning about organizational change, creating the vision for change, creating systemic change, resistance to change – yada, yada, yada. The one thing we forget to mention is that none of it is within our ability to control. It all reverts back to what I said before – the only thing you have the ability to change is yourself.

A few years ago I attended a very powerful training session conducted by Ted Willey. I have attended many seminars in my life, but this one was transformational for me, probably the only one that ever was. Ted has written a book called “The Power of Choice”, and his training is based on one very simple concept: we are the product of the choices that we make, period! There is no blame, there is no fault, as human beings we simply choose. So, for example, you are not fat because McDonald does not put nutritional information on the food you buy, you are fat because of what you choose to put in your mouth. And if those choices include taking in more calories than expending, the end result is fat – period!   Or, you are not late because there was a horrible traffic jam and you got stuck in it. You are late because you failed to adequately prepare to get to where you needed to be when you needed to be there. It is the concept of 100% responsibility. We are response – able, not response – impaired. It is a pretty hard line way of thinking of things, but in the end, I find it to be true.

The world is filled with people who point the finger the other way – woe is me, my life is so bad because I married the wrong person or my life is so bad because I am stuck in this nowhere job. Horsefeathers! If your marriage isn’t working, you can choose to do what needs to be done to fix it, or get out of it. If you are stuck in a nowhere job, get a new one. Now, I am not saying that this will be easy, but you have the power to change your circumstance. It may not be overnight, and it may be very difficult, but the power lies within yourself.

So, in teaching change it occurred to me that we all think about change as good or bad. In the end, it is neither – it simply is. As humans we choose to put a value on change and that value differs depending on how a change affects us individually. A change may be great for some and horrific for others. We can see it playing out in Wisconsin right now. Changing collective bargaining rights is good for government – it will help balance the budget. But changing those rights is bad for union workers – it is the foundation of their power base and why they exist. The existence of government or the existence of unions. What should change and why? Remove the emotion and you see the simple fact: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. If we accept that premiss related to change and take the stance that the only thing we truly can change is ourselves, we approach change management in a very different way. We take the emotion out of it and work to discover ways in which people will choose to change their behaviors, attitudes, beliefs and, (if you’re really good) values.

So that is the journey I will take as I put together this seminar. Should be interesting to see what I come up with.