Role Modeling The Way To 'Lean In'
"The issue is role models. You can't be what you can't see.”
That's a quotation from Cindy Gallop, an advertising entrepreneur who has lately made the issue of the ever-widening, or at least really-slow-to-close gender gap in the ad business her business.
She even called out the dearth of female jurors at awards shows while standing on stage, at the podium of just such a black-tie event last May.
They take place next Monday, during Advertising Week. (Shameless plug Number 2: you can still buy tickets.)
While handing out the awards, each juror will be paired with a student or intern coming up in the business.
Interestingly, once the all-female jury was announced, we started getting push-back from some males (and females, too.) Isn’t the premise of an all-female jury just as sexist as an all-male jury?” some asked. Yes. Indeed, it is.
But at an impromptu lunch that some of the jurors attended last week, one of the responses was, “When was the last time you heard a man talking about an all-male panel?”
You don’t, because the lion’s share of advertising juries and panels are all-male, and we’ve become so conditioned to expect these baked-in biases that we no longer even notice them.
You’d think that 30 years or so after women started entering the professional world in droves, things would be improving, or at least slouching toward 50/50. Perhaps they are in some industries. Not in advertising.
Certainly, a real challenge for women in the industry lately is the move toward analytics and SEO. Yes, the whole “girls-don’t-do-math” equation is a big cliché, and look at Marissa Meyer.
But the truth is there are many fewer female engineers and coders, and the culture of start-ups and “brogramming” skews even more hostile and adolescent toward grown-up women than most businesses.
The latest bit of outrageous sexism took place last week in San Francisco at a TechCrunch hackathon. The first pair of coders on stage—two 20-something Australian dudes--presented "Titstare," an app that lets you "take photos of yourself staring at tits." This was a conference that attendees paid to go to. Another presentation involved a male masturbation joke. The most poignant part was that there was a nine-year old girl, Alexandra Jordan, in the audience the whole time, waiting patiently to show her web site, “Super Kid Fun Time,” where kids can log on and find their friends from school, and request play dates.
Perhaps Jordan’s story serves as the ultimate metaphor for what girls face while coming up through the tech pipeline. Titstare might just be a crude and stupid joke, but it is indicative of some of the entrenched and aggressive sexism that makes it so much harder for women to be productive and successful tech entrepreneurs, (Sheryl Sandberg aside.)
Okay, so tech start-ups tend toward their own wolf-pack cultural extremes. And how many Elon Musks and Larry Ellisons are there, anyway? And, yes, books like The End of Men have been written, and it’s also been shown that the recession has been harder on men looking for employment than women. And men have stepped up with the housework and childcare—hugely, by comparison with their own fathers.
Still, any field that requires lots of travel and lots of office face-time presents a huge problem for mothers and fathers with young children. It seems that from the late ’90s onward, the one who made the decision to either stay home or change careers to do something more family-friendly, (especially after the second kid) more often was the wife.
Of course, it seems stupid to generalize and fall back into trivializing clichés, but just last week, the Harvard Business Review (whose top editor is a woman) published a cover showing a profile of a woman’s face covered with the lines: “Emotional. Bossy. Too Nice. The biases that still hold female leaders back – and how to overcome them.”
Addressing the cultural issues that prevent more women from going higher inside organizations, and encourage too many to leave too early, is essential, of course. You’d think that the need to tell young women, to Lean In (or sit at the table, or raise their hands) would be too obvious to state by now. But good girl, pleaser-culture still exists, side by side with twerking and aggressive sexuality, and it’s confusing for everybody.
Another difference: Many of the women who came up in the ranks in the ’80s had male mentors. These days, men are worried about coming off as patronizing or sexually harass-y if they take that role.
One of the things that came out of the judges’ luncheon was the need for older women to mentor younger ones. Two of the judges mentioned that you get to that point where you’ve just kept your head down and worked hard. And then you look up, and realize that younger women are watching your every move, and that they need tactical and moral support.
As Gallup said, “You can’t be what you don’t see.”