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Can you Measure Workplace Sexism?

Can you Measure Workplace Sexism?

    Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not
    intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or
    link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for
    whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

    Let’s get to it…

    Has society trained men and women to approach the question of blame in different ways? If so, it’s a big deal.

    Here is my impression of two male friends trying to assign blame for something that went wrong.

    Guy1: It’s your fault. You’re an idiot.

    Guy2: Some of it is my fault, but you’re an idiot too.

    Guy1: Ha! True enough. We both suck.

    Guy2: Hahaha! Let’s drink beer.

    Now here is my impression of a man and a woman in a relationship trying to assign blame for whatever went wrong.

    Woman: This is your fault.

    Man: Yes, it is. I am so sorry. Please stop looking at me that way. May I have sex again this year?

    Now let’s play these two scenarios over and over, dozens if not hundreds of times a year, the way real life works. Wouldn’t the brains of women and men become wired differently in terms of how to assign blame?

    Men reflexively accept blame because doing so has worked well for us in the past. But women have had better success blaming men, at least within the context of intimate relationships, in large part because men prefer accepting blame as a sub-optimal  but effective strategy to get sex. I would go so far as to say it is a nearly universal strategy for married guys, at least in this country. Married guys often talk to each other about accepting blame in return for peace at home, and with it the higher likelihood of sex.

    [If you are a married man and this does not describe your situation, please go directly to the comment section and commence bragging about your manliness.]

    Human males are like other animals in the sense that we respond to habit-forming training. If you give me sex every time I take out the garbage, before long I will be throwing away perfectly good household items just to fill up the trash can sooner.

    Now take that gender difference in blame-handling habits into the workplace and you have a real problem. Women are spring-loaded by society’s training to blame the closest man when things go wrong, because doing so always seemed to work in the past. That’s probably what you saw your mom doing, and your older sister, and your aunt, and your grandma too. It would be hard to escape the imprinting. (Your family might be different. It doesn’t change the point.)

    I am going to assume all of you are rational adults, and you understand that claims of sexism are true sometimes and false other times. What we don’t know is whether the true part is 90% or 50% or 10%. Realistically, you can’t measure that kind of thing in a human situation because there are too many uncontrolled variables. If you’re a woman who has experienced workplace sexism, you probably think the reports of sexism holding women back are 90% accurate. And perhaps they are. Many men would probably guess that the real rate of sexism – at least in terms of impeding the careers of women – is closer to 10% of what is reported. 

    I’m not saying men are accurate in their views. Quite the opposite. I’m saying both men and women have been trained by society to think blame is mostly something that women send and men absorb. That is the model that works in relationships and it would be naive to think the human brain can ignore such a powerful habit in the workplace. 

    Imagine a situation in which a woman feels underpaid or passed over for promotion and one of the possible explanations is sexism. But other explanations might be that the interview didn’t go well, or the hiring manager isn’t good at recognizing talent. How do you know what the real problem was?

    I think men and women would, on average, interpret that situation differently based on their pattern recognition and training. As a result, men and women would have entirely different impressions about the size of the problem of sexism. 

    How could men and women ever learn to view the problem of sexism in the workplace through the same filter, so they see the problem as the same size? One solution might be to get rid of the institution of marriage because it turns men into blame-eating liars. Single people recently became a majority in this country, so perhaps this is a self-solving problem in the long run. 

    My main question today is about my underlying hypothesis and assumptions. Do you, my wise readers, believe that men and women are trained by society (and especially by marriage) to deal with blame differently? And if so, is it a big enough difference to pollute the workforce?


    P.S. If my career ended today, that’s okay. I had a good run.


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    And don’t miss Vivian Giang’s post on the dangers of smiling 🙂


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