Who wears the pants in your household?
Now there’s a loaded question. The issue of who is boss – if such a word even applies – seems prickly in the context of a relationship. Theoretically, aren’t most of us looking for equal partners? Mutual respect and shared decision-making?
Ah yes, there is the old school approach: a man’s home is his castle, there’s a good woman behind every successful man, and peace is best kept by acquiescing to the stronger personality, which leaves the “little woman” to maneuver as she can, generally behind the scenes.
And when a woman appears to be boss in the relationship? Don’t we have a few choice terms for her, and a slew of derogatory labels for the man – as though he’s somehow less aggressive, more compliant, and these qualities are deemed “bad” in the male of the species?
Am I assuming less aggressiveness and greater compliance, biased by my female view and personal experience of raising children?
SAHDs, Who Wears the Pants
I recall the 80s sitcom, “Who’s the Boss?” in which Judith Light and Tony Danza play out an amusing role reversal. Light is an ad exec who hires macho softie Danza as her housekeeper. We watch an entertaining gender push-pull, in a scenario that seems as far-fetched now, 25 years later, as it did then.
Still, we’ve certainly become more accepting of Stay At Home Dads. Or have we? Just how few SAHDs are there? How “out of synch” and unappreciated do they feel in the primary caretaking role? Does it take an especially sturdy sense of male self to run a household? And what about the woman in front of the man (rather than behind), and does that expression raise your hackles more when the pronouns are switched?
The world of organizations offers another view of the boss. When’s the last time you had a female manager? If you didn’t like her management style, did you make disparaging remarks about her sex? Did you generalize about women?
Good Boss, Bad Boss
Personally, I’ve had great female managers and lousy ones, just as I’ve had great male managers and lousy ones. Most bosses fall somewhere in between, don’t they?
Nicholas Kristof’s brief column in the Times, “She’s (Rarely) The Boss,” written from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, reflects on the fact that among the executive elite, only 17% are female. He cites COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, who says that women are at least in part to blame, for lack of pursuing opportunities aggressively.
We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations… We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care…
Kristof goes on to cite other statistics that are telling, including a McKinsey survey that found
36 percent of male employees at major companies aspired to be top executives, compared with 18 percent of the women.
When he references MBA graduates and negotiating initial salary offers, the gap is startling: 57 percent of the men tried to negotiate as compared to 7 percent of the women.
Bias For / Against Women in Leadership
I admit to a certain bias when it comes to women in leadership roles – in politics or in business: I don’t expect less; I expect more.
When it comes to raising girls to be confident enough to set their sights high, where do we begin? How do we teach our daughters that competing is not “unfeminine” and that winning feels good?
Can we begin to address core issues of self-esteem and confidence early enough, focusing less on appearance and more on who the child is, how she thinks, her sense of self-ownership? Can we focus on critical communication skills, not to mention, negotiation?
Adding Motherhood to the Managerial Mix
Where does motherhood fall in this mix – in particular when we aren’t talking about the upper echelons who can afford to pay for help, theoretically freeing women up for “whatever it takes” involvement in their careers?
What about the pressures from society – subtle and not so subtle – that the only “good” mother is a devoted mother, and that means a very hands-on, self-sacrificing, ever-available presence?
Sure. Our infrastructure in the workplace is not conducive to the reality of most women’s lives. Even “flexible” jobs frequently make demands on employees and contract workers both, which may spiral out of control – especially when trying to juggle domestic responsibilities. Performance at the workplace or at home is degraded. Too often, so is self-confidence, as women begin to feel that the stress of conflicting expectations and priorities – that they should excel in the job, be loving romantic partners, and naturally – engaged and nurturing mothers.
The Kristof column does not ignore deficiencies in our infrastructure, though I rarely see any article address them in a comprehensive way. I will cite one of my own articles, with recommendations on what would help:
… Teaching managers how to effectively assign tasks, assess progress, and communicate with remote workers…
… Health care that doesn’t drop you over the cliff when you lose a job. Child care that doesn’t end at age 6 or 7 or 8. A school schedule that better fits a standard work schedule.… Not disregarding the millions in the workforce who are not in “an employment relationship” and work as contractors or independents, and therefore, have none of the benefits associated with other workers – including any improvements we may eventually make in the employment environment.
Managerial Models? Relationship Models?
There’s no doubt in my mind that we need to raise daughters to believe in themselves in ways we’re clearly not addressing. “Permission” to speak their minds is a good start. But don’t we need to model and encourage that behavior as parents – as mothers and also fathers? Civil and respectful exchange?
Is greater respect for the Stay At Home Dad an essential piece of this picture? And the fact that we seem to have lost respect for the role of the Stay At Home Mom?
A poor manager helps no one; gender is irrelevant in that regard. We need better managers of both sexes, a diversity of styles, and foundational skills remain a must: the ability to assign work rationally, to communicate clearly, to assess equitably; to encourage development, to foster teamwork, to inspire excellent performance.
Unless we encourage women to spread their wings more fully and at younger ages, I can’t imagine we’ll see equity in pay, much less improvements in representation in the board room.
Does it really matter if the one wearing the pants is wearing a skirt – as long as she’s a terrific boss?
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