May 6, 2013 — Until relatively recently, medical research largely ignored women, assuming that what was true for men would apply to women, or that women’s bodies were simply variations on the standard human (read: male) body.
Research suggests that the habit of treating male experience as the norm, with no recognition of the role gender plays in altering women’s experiences and perspectives, continues unabated in workplaces across Canada and throughout the world.
How would things change if men experienced the world of work as women do? Let’s explore this by reversing some common assumptions:
“Joe is the best candidate for this job overseas, and it could mean a real boost to his career, but he probably won’t be interested because he has young children, plus his wife is on a great career track. Besides, the country we’d be sending him to doesn’t have laws to protect men from violence in the street or on public transportation. Let’s offer it to Mary instead.”
“Gerald Brown, the CEO of ABC company, led an aggressive but ultimately unsuccessful program of expansion to new markets, leading to a sharp drop in his company’s stock value. Can men really be trusted to make good decisions when the pressure is on?”
“John is hard to work with because he’s so pushy and aggressive. Susan, on the other hand, is assertive. You always know where she stands on an issue.”
“Sure, men earn less than women. But that’s because they take time off when they have children and aren’t interested in jobs that might require relocation or long hours.”
These statements sound pretty silly when applied to men, don’t they? So why do we accept them when their subjects are women? No one would question a man’s commitment to his career or his company or his qualifications for a job simply because he loves his children and has strong opinions, or because some other man once made a poor business decision.
Taking it a bit further, imagine what the reaction would be if these assumptions did apply to men. Would we simply shrug and accept that “that’s the way it is”? Or would we introduce family-friendly policies to support employees who take on greater responsibility? And why do we so frequently assume that a man’s spouse will happily compromise her career in service of his advancement—but never the reverse?
If men were the target of violence, would we advise them to stay home for their own good? Or would we take action to keep our employees safe?
Why attribute one woman’s mistakes or incompetence to her gender, but see a man’s errors as the result of his individual character?
Canadian women are fortunate to be allowed a full year’s leave after giving birth to a child. We’re even more fortunate that Canadians now have parental leave, which entitles both parents, regardless of gender, to an opportunity to spend time with their new baby. So why don’t we ask men in professional settings whether they’re planning on having a family?
Women have made great strides in the workplace. But it’s time to move beyond the assumption that men are, by nature, more suited to the world of business.