Men are the problem. I know I don’t need to tell that to half of the population. So this is for the male half. While thoroughly enjoying the Olympics, some of the media coverage has reminded me that the imbalances in society between men and women continue and demand attention.
Comments that the assembled USA women’s gymnastics team “might as well be standing in the middle of the mall,” or that Olympic swimming medalist Corey Cogdell-Unrein doesn’t need to be identified other than as “wife of a Bears’ lineman,” or quotes helpfully suggesting that an Olympian’s “salmon pink and white leotard failed to complement her skin tone” are dismaying illustrations of the broader cultural gender problems in our personal and professional communities.
That men are the problem is obvious given that it is men that sit atop the pyramids of power, wealth and influence. That we therefore must be a part of the solution is apparent. In her New York Times article Sisterhood Is Not Enough: Why Workplace Equality Needs Men, Too, Peggy Klaus notes that a deeper commitment by men to organizational change is essential if society is to meet these “deep and systemic issues” around gender inequality.
Men do not have a good track record in this regard. We do not police our environments well as Sam Polk compellingly confesses when writing about How Wall Street Bro Talk Keeps Women Down. Compounding these attitudes of bias in corporate environments is a perverse incentive. Women clearly have much talent to bring to the workplace in a variety of ways and forms, which business likes. But it becomes much more attractive to embrace that talent for lower pay. Companies procure the excellent talent they need at a cost discount.
It is hard to be perfect. It is hard to make change swiftly. Ingrained bias is difficult to shake and I have no doubt that I too am not immune to such flaws. Yet there are ways in which we can make progress and a solid first step is to talk. As Polk alludes, the nature of our dialogue and the attitudes we bring to our conversational engagement is ripe for considered reflection. Moreover, through conversation we can begin to dismantle some of the stereotypes, discarding inaccurate preconceptions and opening a path to understanding. A conversational culture can mitigate negative workplace and social norms. Through conversation we may have the courage to be honest about this problem and, as men, confront the inherent shame of allowing this state of affairs to continue. Are we going to hold women under, or buoy them up?