March 13, 2006

Women in the workplace, stereotypes in the workplace.

Mike Ballard writes:
A dominant idea in gender-based discussion is that there are masculine and feminine corporate cultures....

Two women from the University of East London asserted last summer in a paper, Implementation of Large Scale Software Applications, that a blinkered, hierarchical approach to the implementation of IT systems has also been linked to the failure of IT projects. Hierarchies, orders, supplication, obedience, puppy dogs tails - these are the things little boys are made of, as the authors pointed out.

A good way to sum up IT failures would be a lack of communication and collaboration, and that, if you have any truck with stereotypes, is what little girls are supposed to be made of.

Janice Kinory, who ushers women into SET ... industries, spent 25 years working in the automotive industry and lived through its transition from Fordism to the Kaizen system of manufacturing.

It changed, she says, from a culture in which decisions were determined by "will of the loudest, most macho male in the room" and "overlooked better ideas put forward by less forceful individuals", to a culture in which the careers of women like Ms Kinory improved along with the fortunes of the manufacturers who embraced more collaborative working practices.

A study of organisational politics published last year by Linda Holbeche, a consultant with Roffey Park, found that men were more likely to engage in divisive politics, while women were more constructive.

Yet, Holbeche says men are more able to use politics to their own advantage because they can be more goal driven and competitive - they have no glass ceilings, social stereotyping and fewer difficulties in hierarchical work environments to hamper their ambition....

Improving your bottom line is clearly not as simple as employing more women. Bismuth says he's still trying to remove glass ceilings, but there's a masculine, corporate establishment that is "resistant" to having its workplaces feminised.
All this stereotyping rubs me the wrong way. Much as I want women to advance, I hate to think this kind of talk about human beings is the key. Researchers seem to believe it's just fine to stereotype as long as they put negative spin on everything associated with men -- "[h]ierarchies, orders, supplication, obedience, puppy dogs tails" -- and sugar-coat the presentation of the supposedly feminine characteristics -- "communication and collaboration" -- which are perfectly susceptible to restatement as negatives and which have traditionally been used to obstruct the advancement of women.

ADDED: And just look at the headline:

Women improve your performance
If you become like them

Notice anything? Oh really? Women improve my performance? If I become like them?

IN THE COMMENTS: An IT guy strikes back:
I've been in IT for a bit over 20 years and I'm scratching my head over this one. Hierarchies and orders are unfortunately common in IT, but supplication and obedience? From what alternate universe IT department did they drag those? Anyone marginally worth their salt in an IT department has more than a bit of a primadonna complex. We don't supplicate to or obey because we don't have to.

Continue reading inside.

37 comments:

Gerry said...

Hop to it, Ann. Become more womanly. You know, like Mo Dowd.

Uncle Jimbo said...

You better stop it Ann,

You are gonna get your card pulled from the gender police. The weird thing is how you came to hold these heretical beliefs, sheltered as you are in your cocoon of correctness.

Cordially,

Uncle J

Dave said...

I hear you about stereotypes, however, stereotypes seem to have a way of becoming reality.

I can't tell you how many times I have seen women run roughshod by more articulate, or forward, men, in the corporate setting.

The best managers I have had have had the perception to see when this is happening to their female underlings and intervening.

Ann Althouse said...

Dave: These managers need to figure out what bad behavior is in individuals and what is fair to individuals. And they should bone up on the law while they are at it. Employers treating people according to sex stereotypes is illegal in the United States.

Nick said...

It's interesting... because I've worked with more women than not who say that women are more political in the office than men. They've specifically said that they liked working with men rather than other women because there is less in-fighting.

The view from those I've talked to is that men may be more political on the surface, but they make their feelings exactly known. Women on the other hand tend to hide their feelings, and do more fighting behind the scenes, and stab others in the back.

As far as stereotypes in general are concerned... as one friend of mine likes saying... "They're stereotypes for a reason"

Ron said...

I wonder to what extent that these gender-aligned stereotypes reflect a more common problem. Sometimes a take-charge, aggressive approach may be needed just to get things done; other times a more communicative, cooperating approach may be what makes a project better. The root problem is that it isn't always clear which approach is the one that is needed now for a given project.

al said...

"They've specifically said that they liked working with men rather than other women because there is less in-fighting."

My wife brings this up about once a week. She works in a office full of women and it amazes me how much in-fighting goes on.

OTOH the office I work in caters to women. Different expectations wrt attendance and communication. Women also seem to get projects that are above their technical expertise and get all the accolades when others come in and save the project.

Icepick said...

Janice Kinory ... spent 25 years working in the automotive industry and lived through its transition from Fordism to the Kaizen system of manufacturing.

It changed, she says, from a culture in which decisions were determined by "will of the loudest, most macho male in the room" and "overlooked better ideas put forward by less forceful individuals", to a culture in which the careers of women like Ms Kinory improved along with the fortunes of the manufacturers who embraced more collaborative working practices.


Yes, because that Kaizen structure from Japan was designed specifically by and for women. We all know what a bunch of wusses those Japanese men are, getting pushed around by all those women Samurai, Ninja, and Sumo wrestlers.

...

Is it too much to ask for the authors of these studies and the writers of these articles to actually pay attention to what they're writing about?

rafinlay said...

If you really want to feel sorry for someone in the workplace, consider the "office wimp," the MAN who is non-aggressive, collaborational, and slight. Universally scorned by all, macho male and female alike. Poor guy. He even has his own stereotype: Casper Milquetoast.

Maxine Weiss said...

In law offices, female secretaries never want to work with the female attorneys. I've seen this. The female attorneys are considered the worst bosses, and secretaries would much rather work for a male attorney.

Peace, Maxine

PatCA said...

I agree with Nick--the negatives are never mentioned, as if the backstabbing and emotional bullying are anomalies.

What Maxine said also applies to courts with a preponderance of female judges.

Instead of denying these tensions, why don't researchers figure out a way to defuse them? Oh wait, Larry Summers comes to mind...

Tom C said...

Peter Drucker wrote (probably before I was born) that a good manager needs to "Use people's strengths, and starve their weaknesses". Understanding just what those are (quickly) is critically important; so sometimes people fall into the trap of using stereotypes, because there's often enough truth in them to provide a reasonable first estimate.

But it's only a first estimate. If you're not constantly refining that appraisal, you're not going to succeed.

Furthermore, if someone's weakness is that they find themselves going along with stupid ideas because someone dominated them at a meeting, then we need to work on that, right? Regardless of gender affiliation. Ditto for those who like office politics more than work.

Elizabeth said...

Based on this headline, is it stereotyping to say that it appears copyeditors assume tech/biz magazine audiences are male?

Pogo said...

Are there still women who harbor this utopian belief, that if only everyone would become women, harmony would ensue and all conflict would be gone?

Does this not strike the authors as the least bit implausible? Have they ever really worked in such a heavenly place, where the mother-run company forever profits, the trains run on time, and the trees have gumdrops and cotton candy?

Over and over, business fads pursue the effortless success. Deming, Total Quality, Reengineering. All were fads which came and went. This fad, The Wisdom of Mother Superior, has the same sheen of believability, and is destined for a similar fall from grace.

Some people want to believe this claptrap so badly, they will ignore their own experience with women and men. I have learned to be wary of such intellectual theorizing; it always ends in tears.

altoids1306 said...

Since we are dealing in gross gender stereotyping, allow me to add my own two bits:

"If your dog has bitten the child next door...which would you sooner have to deal with, the master of that house or the mistress?" C.S. Lewis

(Of course, the correct answer today is neither. You sell your house and wait for the lawsuit.)

tiggeril said...

People who think women are more communicative and collaborative in a corporate sense have never seen the Apprentice (particularly season 2).

BrianOfAtlanta said...

I've been in IT for a bit over 20 years and I'm scratching my head over this one. Hierarchies and orders are unfortunately common in IT, but supplication and obedience? From what alternate universe IT department did they drag those? Anyone marginally worth their salt in an IT department has more than a bit of a primadonna complex. We don't supplicate to or obey because we don't have to. Knowing that you are all that stands between the next major systems failure and a major corporate catastrophe tends to limit the amount of supplicating and puppy dog obedience once is inclined to endure.

Furthermore, any IT department which follows the "loudest, most macho" person in the room is clearly doomed for failure, and I have yet to work for an IT department which followed this model. Usually, the best ideas are reached naturally by consensus, since nobody's brain is big enough to think of everything before starting a project. Everybody contributes, the bad ideas are squashed, and hopefully you end up with something that will work. When everyone in the company can judge your performance by whether their email or database is working correctly, it tends to keep you results, rather than process, oriented.

As for women in IT management, I haven't noticed much difference between male and female CIOs. Both sexes have good representatives and bad representatives.

Michael Babin said...

MaxineWeiss said...
In law offices, female secretaries never want to work with the female attorneys. I've seen this. The female attorneys are considered the worst bosses, and secretaries would much rather work for a male attorney.


My wife currently works as a legal assistant in a law office with three female attorneys. She likes working with two of those attorneys (followed one of them from her previous workplace), dislikes working with the other. Similarly mixed opinions of working with male attorneys at her previous firm. At least in her case (and those of other female assistants she has worked with), your generality is not correct.

amba said...

Please check out The Obvious?, the blog of Euan Semple, who set up all the internal forums and networks at the BBC. Here's a man talking about connection, level playing fields, the advantages of networks as opposed to hierarchies (both for organizations and the people who work in them), and how modern technologies are conducive to them. It'll pleasurably bust your stereotypes.

tcd said...

I realize this is anecdotal. I've had 3 bosses in my 8 years in the workforce. My worst boss was a woman. My best boss was a woman. My current boss, who falls somewhere in between, is a man. Lesson? Treat people as individuals.

Wickedpinto said...

I haven't seen it. It's a person thing, as far as infighting, most of the time it's the senior people (who tend to be men) vs the junior people (which tends to be more diverse in gender) It is the senior people who generaly go running around procedure, or act in a way that is outside of general workplace decency, and ultimately it is the junior guys who blow up because they don't have fast tracks to other people within the network of the workplace. When a woman blows up, it tends to be more memorable only because of differences in voice tone, but the reactions are the same.

Some women are ambitious and push the limits to demonstrate their value, just like men. Some women keep their heads down doing their job just wanting to get through the day without screwing up, and going home, just like men, some women are self righteous jerkweeds who hate being held accountable for their own failures, just like men.

The day of the false impression that a woman who acts like a man is characterized as a "bitch" while men are "strong" has been called on it's lie, unless there is a way to proffit off of the lie. Every reasonable thinking person, I think, has washed their hands of this stuff. The real gender issue in the workplace has nothing to do with gender assignments, but in the area of sexual tension.

Of course, CEO's, or Presidents of companies might be different, but I don't think so.

Pat Patterson said...

Unfortunately the collaborative approach from Chevrolet brought us the Caprice, the new Malibu and the Malibu Maxx. While the same approach brought to Ford the eminently forgettable Five Hundred, the Thunderbird and the Freestar. All dogs all the time. It seems that the American manufacturers started tanking for a variety of reasons and the collaborative approach is probably one of them.

Maxine Weiss said...

Girls are not made of sugar and spice, and everything nice. And, they grow up to be scheming sirens. Women are connivers. They are harridans.

Margo Channing.

Lady Godiva.

It's absolutely biblical. Eve picking that stupid apple, even though told not to.

Contrary.

Guess who the true enablers of Enron were? Not the men. Who sat by and allowed the whole thing? Heros, according to Time Mag. Oh really? Sure they came forward....after it was too late.

Behind every male Corporate Crook.....there's a woman/women standing by, enabling the whole thing.

Nixon, and the "Nixonettes"----a core group of women who paved the way.

Peace, Maxine

Joan said...

My experience: there's a big difference working for a software development company (where most large scale software development projects take place) and in the IT departments of other corporations, no matter how big they are.

From what I've heard from family members and friends, BrianofAtlanta is right about the way things get done in IT departments of large corporations, but in software companies, it's a whole other story. I worked for small, medium, and large software companies over my 15 year career. At all but the smallest, the gender stereotyping was very strong among the male development managers. Most of the women were in non-development roles, and the few that weren't, like me, had long ago learned to get along with the guys as one of the guys. (It helps to read the sports page and ignore all the swearing.) The women in project management, tech writing, and qa were generally disrespected, their opinions discounted, and their overall effectiveness limited -- even when they were supposed to be running meetings, or their input was specifically solicited.

I know my experience is specific to the companies I worked for, but the "boy's club" atmosphere was unmistakeable. I can't tell you the number of times the dev teams went ahead and built something "cool" that the clients didn't need or want, just because it was "cool" and no one had the nerve to reign them in. But that attitude came down from the top, so we all learned to just let it go, rather than be tagged as "troublemakers."

Maxine Weiss said...

michael babin:

Have you seen the movie "All About Eve" ???

--Offers a very good, and timeless, example of just how great woman get along and work together.

I also recommend "Jezebel".

Women in the workplace----oh yeah, real fun times!

Peace, Maxine

Balfegor said...

Yes, because that Kaizen structure from Japan was designed specifically by and for women. We all know what a bunch of wusses those Japanese men are, getting pushed around by all those women Samurai, Ninja, and Sumo wrestlers.

Oh, well, you know. The feminised Orient and all -- Western writers have been doing this for centuries.

Only, the Japanese car companies, fitting as they do within the old keiretsu/zaibatsu conglomerates, have some of the most hierarchical corporate structures in the world today. Forget anything you can imagine in the US context, back when they were first trouncing US car manufacturers, corporate underlings at the big car manufacturers are supposed to have had to address their superiors in keigo, in forms so servile they practically amount to a different language. As an example of non-hierarchical corporate management structures, I think major, traditional Japanese corporations like the car companies are about the worst example possible.

Maxine Weiss said...

"Bill's thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago. He'll look it twenty years from now. I hate men."

--Margo Channing (All About Eve)

HaloJonesFan said...

Oh, for GOD'S sake...

It's "REIN", people. You REIN IN something. You give someone FREE REIN. You hand over the REINS.

The expression comes from the straps used to control a horse. The REINS. "Reign" is something that a king does. Yes, "free reign" does parse, but it is not the expression that you want.

God. It pisses me off so badly that people are screwing this up. It's blindingly obvious that they don't know what they're talking about--they just heard it somewhere and it sounded cool, so they're using it because they want to be cool too, in some kind of cargo-cult transference.

Maxine Weiss said...

Hey Michael Babin: I noticed you use the word "Legal Assistant" in your post.

Heaven for fend we call 'em "secretaries". Everyone's an "Administrative Assistant" nowadays, because "secretary" is such an insult.

No more "Gal Friday"---- too sexist.

Stewardess, Cleaning Lady, Waitress....Directress? ....Executrix? ----All discriminatory terms.
Language is now subject to sexual harassment fears.

Women in the workplace.

Good times.

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

Joan: I don't see how the bad behavior you described equates to the stereotype that Brian said wasn't true ("supplication, obedience"). There's a difference between discrimination against women and particular gender stereotypes that might motivate people to engage in discrimination. One could believe the stereotypes and refrain from discriminating or not believe the stereotypes but still discriminate. A preference for a boys club could exist apart from the stereotypes cited in the article.

ShadyCharacter said...

Maxine, you're coming across a little, um, unhinged.

Also, "Legal Assistant" is very different from "Legal Secretary". One is a secretary and one is a professional - albeit one without a JD - in most states, it's a certificated position.

It doesn't fit in with your whole stewardess exectrix thingie...

(I've decided to give free reign to my post and not subject it to the rigors of spel-cheking.)

Elizabeth said...

Halo, it's an irritating spelling; not such a big deal. But now you have me thinking about free reign chicken. Chicken Royale?

Maxine, those nasty femmes you keep citing are, you know, not real, right?

Michael Babin said...

Maxine Weiss said:
Have you seen the movie "All About Eve" ???

--Offers a very good, and timeless, example of just how great woman get along and work together.

I also recommend "Jezebel".

Women in the workplace----oh yeah, real fun times!


So to understand how things work in the real world, I should consult Hollywood movies?!

[pause while laughter prevents further typing...]

No thanks.

Michael Babin said...

Maxine Weiss said:

Hey Michael Babin: I noticed you use the word "Legal Assistant" in your post.


That's her title. The position combines aspects of secretarial and paralegal duties (she has a degree in the latter). At smaller firms, these duties are often combined.

Joan said...

HaloJonesFan: Sorry about the typo, I assure you I know the origin of the expression. I type fast, and sometimes the fingers work independent of the brain.

Ann: Brian said the bad behavior isn't true in IT generally; in my experience, it is true in large software development companies. I don't disagree with anything you said, particularly: A preference for a boys club could exist apart from the stereotypes cited in the article. That's true, but at the medium-sized and large companies I worked for, the discriminatory behavior against women was based on the stereotypes that the senior management held and at times actively promoted.

My group was a bit peculiar. We built tools from system-level utilities, so we took requirements from three different application groups and made requests to four system-level groups. I had to enforce a highly cooperative, communicative model or none of it would've worked. It was not an easy position to be in, and one that led to both excellent performance reviews and a reputation for being a bitch. At least we managed to deliver what we were supposed to, when we were supposed to!

Ernst Blofeld said...

Even if you're an introvert, as many IT people are, you need a significant ego to handle working in IT.

You know the opinion that the universe is vast and indifferent to human endeavor? After a few months as a sysadmin you come to the conclusion that this view is hopelessly optimistic, and that in fact the world is actively malevolent. The universe is conspiring to screw you over and take down your machines, and the only thing that prevents catastrophe is your wits and the skin of your teeth. You come pretty quickly to the conclusion that you are personally responsible for the continued functioning of the universe.

vbspurs said...

Screw All About Eve.

The real cinematic reference in this thread should be...

Ninotchka!

That emotionless, de-feminised, comrade automaton who along the way discovered she can be as effective in a ballgown and funny hat.

Love conquers all.

Except for MoDo, obviously.

Cheers,
Victoria