In their 2001 article entitled A Modest Manifesto for Shattering the Glass Ceiling, Meyerson and Fletcher re-examine the metaphorical “glass ceiling” limitation of female leadership in major corporations. They identify the three most-often utilized intervention approaches to address workplace inequity and present a fourth technique that addresses the shortcomings of each of the prior tactics. It is evident that the three most-utilized interventions stem from a more radical time period in the U.S. workforce, approximately 50 years ago. Since I am a big fan of Mad Men, I will use examples from the show to highlight each approach.
The first technique attempts to assimilate women into a male-dominated environment. I was amused to read that this included training women to play golf, since I have spent the past few months trying to learn the game for much the same reason. This approach clearly stems from the tendency for business deals to be made outside the office, such as in men’s clubs and bars. I related this approach to an episode of Mad Men where Peggy Olson expresses frustration with a prospective client being taken to a gentleman’s club. Peggy needed to step out of her comfort zone and go to the club so she could remain a team member on the client’s project, even though women don’t typically frequent those types of establishments.
The second approach to addressing gender inequity involves identifying and then adapting to the unique needs of women in the workplace. When Joan, the head of office operations, has a baby, she brings him into the office so she can work and take care of the child simultaneously. Assuming women are more comfortable taking care of infants, the female employees were tasked with taking care of the child when Joan was occupied. This communicates the message that women can abandon their work tasks when a more “gender-relevant” task arises, even if it detracts from the company’s overall goal. Over the course of the episode, men were not expected to stop their work to care for the child, but women were almost required to.
The third method is a means of celebrating and emphasizing differences between men and women. This is an intuitive response to the first two approaches that aims to reduce differences. When Peggy becomes a copywriter, she is only given accounts that target female audiences (lipstick, hosiery, cleaning products). While groundbreaking in the sense that Peggy is one of the first female copywriters, she struggles with the fact that she is funneled into one particular market under the assumption that it is the only place in which she can thrive. If female products are no longer represented by the agency, Peggy assumes she will be out of a job. The article identifies this issue and explains that women tend to assume HR-type roles and are expected to progress up solely in specific career ladders.
As the article notes, a typical employer would not admit to these types of overt discrimination today, yet more subtle ways of utilizing this tactic are clearly still present. Rather than ignoring or overemphasizing gender equity, the fourth approach presents a systemic change that is neither random nor focused solely on that inequity. Recognizing small issues that arise from organizational inefficiencies can address the symptom of gender inequity, while gradually changing the greater culture and mission of the company. This approach caters to a rapidly changing workforce by providing small, cost-effective strategies to address organizational development needs.
Presenting a solution to a business problem (such as hiring strategies) will be better received in top management than simply telling them something like, “Sorry, but your company is sexist.” Labeling the unpredictable, unorganized approach to project management at the European retail company as “unbounded time” is an example of how a small, easy-to-understand change can dramatically improve the daily operations of a company. If these small changes are modeled rather than dictated from top management, the trickle-down effect will be more subtle and enduring. In summary, internally reflecting about organization trends will help management and consultants address gender inequity and other symptoms of dysfunction.
What does this mean to you, dear reader? Baby steps add up to giant footprints!
(Thank you Fran Gulick for editing!)