Tag Archives: gender issues in the workplace

Are Men Finished? – Have Women Really Adapted Faster, and Better, than Men?

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
(paraphrased from Charles Darwin)

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Do you remember the TV show All In The Family?  In the episode Gloria and the Riddle, Gloria stumps Archie with a classic riddle:

A man and a son were in a car accident.  The son was rushed into the emergency room.  The doctor announced “I can’t operate on him.  He’s my son.”  The doctor was not the boy’s father.  Why couldn’t the doctor operate? 

Archie Bunker never could figure it out – but Edith did, and Archie did not like the answer!  It aired on October 7, 1972 (the year I graduated from college), and it seems utterly amazing that an entire show could be built around a riddle that stumped everyone then, and would stump no one today.

Our oldest son is a first year medical school student.  At his opening (very impressive) White Coat Ceremony, one of the speakers commented on how he remembered, years earlier, when women made up fewer than 8% of the class.  They did not announce this year’s percentage, but my brother and I began our unofficial tally when it became obvious – this year’s class was clearly more than 50% female.

I thought of all this as I read about this upcoming debate.  If I could be in New York next Tuesday (September 20, 2011), I would definitely want to attend the debate:  Men Are Finished:  the live Slate/Intelligence Squared debate on Sept. 20 at NYU. (Details here).

One of the two speakers for the motion is Hanna Rosin, author of the recent article The End of Men for The Atlantic.   Here are some paragraphs from an interview in Slate with Ms. Rosin.  I bolded some portions for emphasis:

Why are men finished, exactly? Rosin says they’ve failed to adapt to a modern, postindustrial economy that demands a more traditionally—and stereotypically—feminine skill set (read: communication skills, social intelligence, empathy, consensus-building, and flexibility). Statistics show they’re rapidly falling behind their female counterparts at school, work, and home. For every two men who receive a college degree, three women will. Of the 15 fastest-growing professions during the next decade, women dominate all but two. Meanwhile, men are even languishing in movies and on television: They’re portrayed as deadbeats and morons alongside their sardonic and successful female co-stars.

The question I always have to respond to (after her The Atlantic article) is, ‘[if women are taking over] why are there so many more men in power?’ If you look at Hollywood, or you look at the Fortune 500 list, or you look at politics, there’s a disproportionate number of men in the higher positions of power.

(Slate: Why is that, then?)

Men have been at this for 40,000 years. Women have been rising for something like 30 or 40 years. So of course women haven’t occupied every single [high-powered] position. How would that be possible? The rise of women is barely a generation old. But if you look at everything else, like the median, the big bulge in the middle, it’s just unbelievable what has happened: Women are more than 50 percent of the workforce, and they’re more than 50 percent of managers. It’s just extraordinary that that’s happened in basically one generation. It seems like whatever it is that this economy is demanding, whatever special ingredients, women just have them more than men do.

The overall message of the last 25 to 30 years of the economy is the manufacturing era is coming to an end, and men need to retool themselves, get a different education than the one they’ve been getting, and they’re not doing it.

One of the young guys I interviewed put it to me: “I just feel like my team is losing.” They feel like women have clocked them, and it came as a surprise to this young generation of men, so I don’t know that they can’t catch up. They might.

I wrote a piece in the Atlantic last week about the new TV season in which six different fall sitcoms are about men being surpassed by women.

I have presented synopses of a number of books on some of the difficulties/challenges women face in the workplace:

Women Don’t Ask:  Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay. 

Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth by Mika Brzezinski

(and my colleague Karl Krayer presented another Babcok and Leschever book:
Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.

It is true that women are still underpaid, in comparison with men doing the same job/work.  And it is true that men are so very dominant at the very top of the ladder(s).  The glass ceiling is still quite real.  Consider this quote from the Brzezinski book:

“At the top of the capitalist pyramid, there are almost no women.  The areas where the real money and power reside are still occupied almost exclusively by men…  How many would picture a Wall Street titan in a skirt?  Most of the gain in income and productivity for the whole economy over the past decade, even the past couple of decades, is in the top one percent, and that’s where the women aren’t penetrating.”    (Chrystia Freeland, Financial Times).

But, as Ms. Rosin asserts, the tide is turning in so many ways.  This may be good (I’m genuinely all for equality) for women, and for society overall, but the men have some serious soul-searching to do, in my opinion.  Men, according to Ms. Rosin, have been too slow to adapt (see Darwin paraphrase above), while women have adapted with breathtaking speed to the new realities.

I think this will be quite a debate on September 20.

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You can purchase our synopses of three of the books listed above (Women Don’t Ask is not available), with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.