Marolt: Raising expectations while lowering pay for women is old school
Believe me, I’m not prepared to debate Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg because she’d destroy me, but I disagree with her that society has lower expectations for women than men. For discussion’s sake, I’m going to tap into my feminine side to attempt a cogent argument.
In a recent address to Air Force Academy cadets, Sandberg said, “We systematically overestimate men and underestimate women.” I totally disagree.
She went on to say, “Women and minorities face barriers white men don’t face.” As to this, I totally agree, but the barriers that women and minorities face are completely different. They are fighting battles on opposite sides of this front.
Far from telling women that they are less competent and capable than men, I think society sets the bar higher for women. It starts on the first day of preschool. While studies show that teachers give more attention to boys than girls, it is erroneous to conclude, as it is commonly, that they do this because they think boys are smarter or more deserving of their time.
Think back to your own early childhood educational experience: The reason our teachers spent more time with the boys is because they needed it. Boys are constantly on the watch list while the girls are on cruise control. While the boys are getting in trouble, the girls are getting things done. Boys are less mature than girls; certainly at the early stages of formal education and, as far as I can tell, pretty much all the way through college. Of course this is a generalization, but the debate is framed in generalities.
What’s the takeaway from this easily observable, almost universal phenomenon? It’s that we actually end up setting the bar much higher for girls than boys. We expect more from them, not less. A huge and easily tested example is college admittance. Thank your lucky stars if you are a boy applying; the standards for getting into almost any school are lower for male applicants than females.
There are many anecdotal real-world experiences, too. Before she became my wife, Susan was a co-worker at a large international accounting firm. As hard as it is for me to admit, she was more diligent, did better work and spent less time on projects than I did. This made her more valuable to the firm. Yet, my rise through the ranks was faster. We laugh about this now. At the time it was a constant source of frustration for her.
Here’s the thing, though: She was not overlooked for promotion because the expectations for her were lower than for me. Obviously the expectations for me were lower since I was demonstrably less productive but still got the quick promotions. Her reviews were not as glowing as mine because she was being compared with the larger and more talented pool of women working at the firm.
Now, I have reached common ground with Sandberg: Women don’t reach the highest ranks of business as easily as men. It’s for the exact opposite reason than she thinks, though. If we expected no more of women than we do of men, boardrooms across this nation would be dominated by women… If they chose to be there as they matured beyond their 30s and this life-option continued to look as appealing to them as it does to men, who actually have more societally enforced constraints on what they can spend their days doing into middle age. But, that’s a different discussion.
Finally, Sandberg hitching onto the minority rallying cry on this issue is unfair to minorities. Sadly, I believe society does have lower expectations for minorities in education and the workforce. Racism exists.
The outcome between societal low expectations for minorities and high expectations for women has the same effect on the careers of both groups in that each are demonstrably limited in their corporate world advancements, but because the causes are completely different, chances are good that the solution to each problem might be different, too. Aggregating both groups to create more widespread awareness in order to formulate a single solution seems certain to end up being counterproductive for one of the groups in the end, if not both.
While too high expectations on women causing them to be held back from the ascension into the upper echelons of business is undoubtedly a source of deep, continual frustration, the systemic belief in racial and gender inferiority is a vial force that destroys the feeling of worth in the human soul.
Roger Marolt constantly helps prove that women generally have higher IQs than men. Roger@maroltllp.com
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