Monday, October 8, 2012

Women Hurting Women: Some Disturbing Trends

"My persuasion can build a nation 
 Endless power, with our love we can devour 
 You'll do anything for me" 
As a booty-tastic proponent of girl's empowerment through social and interactive media, it pains me greatly to speak out against pseudo-feminist Beyonce's musical interpretation of the song "Run the World (Girls)." In these mind-numbingly catchy and vacuous lyrics, Beyonce sings that we are upon the age of girlhood and female power, hear us roar, we don't need no man, sexual independence, etc.  However, despite the idyllic call to sisterhood, girls (and women) certainly have yet to run the world. Insulting stereotypes and preconceived notions rule the corporate world and bolster the glass ceiling in all walks of life. And some staff writers even pose questions as asinine as "Do Women Leaders Matter?"

A particularly troubling issue for 21st-century feminism is how women in positions of power treat other women - sometimes analogized to quasi-pathological Stockholm Syndrome (where women buy into chauvinistic frames of reference and believe that they have succeeded by adhering to traditionally masculine standards and so must ensure that other women continue to adhere thusly), or a more misanthropic paradigm (I suffered back in my day from all of the rampant sexism and reigning social order, so you must now also suffer before being allowed to enter the sacred space that I fought to gain admission to). 

A recent Times article focuses on the "scorched-earth offensive" that one woman in power has waged against the low-socioeconomic status women of her country and elsewhere. 
Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina (pictured) has used her governmental authority to specifically target Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and famed founder of the Grameen Bank for microlending. Yunus pioneered microfinance - an small-scale lending system designed to help the poor in developing countries lift their families out of poverty. Because the vast majority of loan recipients are women, many credit Yunus as a champion for the economic empowerment of women around the world. 
Prime Minister Hasina has ousted Yunus from his role as Managing Director of Grameen Bank, and has used governmental force to seize control of the bank from its 5.5-million-strong army of grassroots shareholders (almost all of whom are impoverished women). The reason most often cited for this attack is Prime Minister Hasina's alleged extreme jealousy that Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Secretary Hillary Clinton has risen to Yunus' defense in recent months and urged Prime Minister Hasina to halt her dismantling of the Grameen Bank. 

The article further asserts that demographics like "girls' education and maternal mortality don’t improve more when a nation is led by a woman. There is evidence that women matter as local leaders and on corporate boards, but that doesn't seem to have been true at the national level." These findings bring us to a fundamentally disturbing question: does the existence of women in positions of power necessarily improve the plight of lower-SES, disadvantaged women in that society? 

To frame this issue in a localized and more relatable context, I looked into a social science survey conducted by Dr. Michelle Duguid, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. This study, published in May 2012, attempted to shed light on why some female executives are preventing other qualified women from advancing into high-level positions at many U.S. corporations. Among Dr. Duguid's findings were 3 identified reasons for why women in senior executive roles are hesitant to help female newcomers in their industry:

  • competitive threat among women is the fear that a highly qualified female candidate might be more capable, competent or accepted
  • collective threats are seen in women who might be concerned about bringing in another female with lower qualifications who could reinforce negative stereotypes and affect others’ impressions of them
  • favoritism is evident when female leaders are concerned about appearing biased toward other women and will not advocate for them
Beate Chelette, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, commented that women do not support one another in the workplace because they do not understand “successor planning.”
“Traditionally, women worry that the new girl is after their job. Their thinking dwells on how to protect their job instead of how to train someone to take their job so that they can move up to the next level. That is why so many women are stuck in manager positions for their entire lives and never get promoted.”
On the other hand, Caroline Turner, principal of DifferenceWorks LLC, a female-owned consulting firm in Denver and author of Difference Works: Improving Retention, Productivity and Profitability through Inclusion (Live Oak Book Co., 2012), disagrees. Taking on an essentialism view, Turner says women are relational and hardwired to share intimacies. However, this female tendency is "squashed in the modern workplace because of its hierarchical nature. Women are polite to one another in the office but keep an executive distance to maintain a professional façade." 

A recent article in Forbes also documented new research from Bentley University concluding that only 20% of Gen Y women say that they want to follow in the footsteps of the female leaders in their workplaces. The study surveyed 1000 college-educated Millenial women, finding that: 
"while 84% of respondents said that they could identify at least one female leader at their job, most didn’t want to emulate her career path."
Additionally, the study found that Gen Y's rejection of the present state of female corporate achievement also stems from women's attitudes toward mentorship. Only 5.5% of respondents claimed that a professional colleague, supervisor, or role model was their primary source of career cheerleading. The vast majority of those surveyed identified spouses and parents instead as key career supporters. Only 25% of Millennials of both genders give credit to a manager or supervisor for encouraging them to assume a leadership role at work.

The Forbes article also highlights research showing a breakdown in how corporate leaders provide guidance and support to female subordinates. 
Only 35% of female survey respondents said they “often” received positive recognition at work, with women more likely to receive verbal praise and men more than twice as likely to say they received recognition in the form of financial compensation and almost twice as likely as women to say they received promotions or special assignments as a form of positive recognition. These findings echo research conducted by Catalyst in 2010 that found that not only did mentored men win more promotions than women, their promotions came with greater financial compensation – 21% increases to women’s 2%.
My personal experience is not nearly as harsh. I have the strictest confidence that my female mentors are genuinely rooting for me and want to dispense truly valuable advice. However, as a pansexual woman of color who does not one day desire children, I do grow weary of the "when are you going to start thinking about having a family" and all  of the obligatory for-my-own-good and heteronormative relationship advice that flies at me. Do you see any parallels between these research findings and your own professional experiences in the law? 


KSergent said...

A close friend of mine often discusses the new girl at work: she is blonde, has nicer clothes and has superior excel skills. I think that women especially feel threatened by other women in the workplace in male dominated fields. I believe this stems from the fact that women recognize that they are being compared and sized up from the men in the office. Women perpetuate the cycle. Even though my friend has befriended the girl in her office, I know she still feels the sense of competition. To me, it seems inevitable because they are the only women in the office in their young twenties. I don't think this type of hyper competition will die down until there are equal numbers of men and women in these traditionally male dominated fields.

VK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sophie said...

This post reminds me of a scene from the movie "Mean Girls" where a teacher explains girl on girl crime at a high school. Basically, all of the girls had spread rumors about each other and they all ended up being hurt by the situation. While this post focuses on women in positions of power, I think the notion of "women hurting women" travels much further than just women of power. I've witnessed this girl on girl crime since I can remember - since elementary school it seems girls are often in competition with one another. While I think competition can be good in certain situations, I don't think it is helpful in regards to feminism. I wonder how women can improve these issues and instead of fueling these notions of jealousy and competition, inspire each other to be better.

VK said...

Competition can be a good motivation. In the case of women, however, I also felt it as something that prevent us from achieving changes in matter of feminism and to support one another. Like KSergent, I think that a part of this (unhealthy) competition is linked to the few numbers of women in the traditionally male dominated fields.
As this article shows, women are often their own enemies. How could it be different in some ways? A lot of women suffer from sexism and then reproduce it afterward. Women are not better than men. They are just human beings, full of faults like all human beings. But I do not excuse these behaviors, and I hope that I will never act like that. If women are aware of feminism and this kind of issue, it is something that can be improved.