Sexual Politics

By Caudron, Shari | Personnel Journal, May 1995 | Go to article overview

Sexual Politics


Caudron, Shari, Personnel Journal


The struggle for power, job insecurity and program designed in the name of diversity, have all contributed to increased tension between the genders. Yet, few companies are doing much about it. Here's why you can no longer ignore it.

So you think your company is dealing with gender issues? Think again. Men and women have had it with each other and it's high time you paid attention. Picture the U.S. workplace as a boxing ring. In one corner, the American male worker--seething, resentful, a little smug, and sick and tired of all the accusations leveled at him by members of the "fairer" sex. In the other corner, the American female--jaw set, fists up, and bound and determined to gain more respect, power, money and understanding from the men who rule corporate America.

She, quite frankly is sick of accommodating men, proving herself over and over again, and waiting patiently for the creeps in the big leather chairs to "get it;" to stop being such insensitive, narrow-minded jerks who only encourage and promote clones of themselves. "Pay me what I'm worth," she says, "and promote me on my merits. What's so hard about that?"

He, on the other hand, wonders if she'll ever stop whining and start acting like an adult. He's tired of censoring everything he says, and sick to death of being blamed for the oppression of women in this society. "You want my respect?" he asks. "Earn it. And take a look around. Lots of women are making it today. What's your problem?"

If you were the bookmaker for this match, on whose head would you place higher odds? His, because men do hold the power in this society and the situation isn't likely to change significantly in the near future? Or hers, because she does deserve better treatment and more authority than she's been getting? Your answer, of course, may depend on who wears the pants in your family. But, frankly, you shouldn't be betting on either gender. Any clear winner in the battle of the sexes means a giant loss for American enterprise.

Does all the tension between men and women sound grossly overstated? Hardly. The fact is, gender relations in the workplace are worse than they've ever been because we've patently ignored the real reasons behind gender warfare: Women want more power, and men don't want to share it; men and women really are different. and we've overlooked those differences for far too long; and the ceaseless change in our society has all of us feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable and more eager to find scapegoats than ever before. And let's face it: the opposite sex makes for an easy target.

What's more. the things human resources professionals think they're doing to mitigate gender strife, including sexual harassment workshops, work-family programs and diversity initiatives, may actually be exacerbating the conflict.

Conflict arises from the pursuit of power. Let's talk about what everybody in corporate America is afraid to talk about: power and power-sharing between the sexes. Men, who have held all the power positions for years, are feeling more vulnerable than ever. In terms of sheer numbers, more white men have lost their jobs through downsizing and restructuring than any other group of Americans, and those who are left with a paycheck are determined to keep it come hell or high water.

Unfortunately, their job losses have come at the same time that more companies are recognizing the need to recruit and promote more women into management positions. These men, to put it mildly, aren't eager to share their power, especially with women they feel may not be qualified for the job, or worse, may abuse that power once they attain it.

"Women who have gotten into good positions are afraid men are going to take their jobs away, so they take a 'CYA--cover-your-ass'--approach to management," says Jim Hart, a private psychotherapist in Acton. Massachusetts, and former vice president with Mediplex behavioral treatment centers in Boston. …

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