Gender discrimination comes in a lot of forms, and with all of the hundreds of companies I have visited and the thousands I have researched I expect I have seen them all. There is the overt 1950's neanderthal style like the manufacturing guy who explained to me just a few months ago that set up reduction was not practical in his plant. His reasoning: most of the machine operators were women and set ups were men's work – too physical, dirty and mechanically difficult for the female body and mind to handle. That kind is easy to spot and arises from sheer stupidity, and is pretty easy to overcome. Any woman who cannot intellectually match wits and succeed against such an idiot is probably doomed to failure any way.
Equally blatant and grounded in a comparable level of ignorance are the business advice articles such as the one in Bloomberg/Business Week of a few days ago providing tips and pointers when you find yourself in Las Vegas for business and "need to network and give the impression that you’re a high-roller to your more hedonistic colleagues and boss." It includes advice for women who find themselves in a strip club with such "hedonistic colleagues" and the boss. One helpful tip: "If you don't mind getting a lap dance, it will endear you to your male colleagues ...", and "… chat up the strippers. They may well appreciate the female companionship. To thank them for their time, either purchase them a drink or buy a man in your party a lap dance."
My advice to the woman who finds herself in Las Vegas with colleagues and a boss who require such networking and are impressed by the impression that you are a "high roller" would be to tell the louts to stick their job where the sun doesn't shine and find yourself a new job with decent normal colleagues and bosses. And then cancel your subscription to Bloomberg/Business Week at once, of course.
I think the worst kind of gender assault, however, is the more insidious kind – the kind that comes in sheep's clothing. It creeps up on women, treats them as 'sisters in bond' and leaves them lesser for it in the long term. It is the kind in seemingly supportive articles such as this one: "5 Reasons Why Women Are Good Leaders". The article, and many like it, is built entirely on the premise "Women’s skills are different than men’s." If that is true then there is absolutely no reason why women deserve equal consideration for jobs. If that's true then there are some jobs better suited to 'women's skills' and other jobs better suited to men's skills – it's 1950 all over again.
In fact, lucky for all, that premise is absurd. I have worked with plenty of female managers who embody the points in the article … but there is no shortage of examples of the polar opposite. Carol Bartz who slashed and burned Yahoo to oblivion, and just today Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft who is laying off 1,600 people in their relentless downsizing effort come to mind as women who set the notion that "Female leaders are more concerned with helping everyone feel like a necessary part of the team" on its ear. No one ever accused Margaret "Iron Panties" Thatcher of "leading with empathy".
I have long believed, (and drilled into every one of my kid's heads) the principle that anyone who begins a sentence with "women are …", or "black folks are … ', or any other broad class of people are … is about to say something very stupid or outright dishonest unless the subject is biology. There are no universal character attributes – just individuals, each with their unique set of talents and shortcomings, each to be taken on their own individual merits.
The person who asserts that someone is better than others, or just different from others, because of thier gender – or their race or ethnicity – is just as demeaning and just as intellectually dishonest as the person who says someone is worse than the rest because of gender or race. Respect for people means respect for people individually – one on one – as they are, with all of their unique human capabilities, values and flaws, and anything else strikes me as extremely disrepectful.