In most organizations masculine norms are common, and the higher you advance in the organization, the stronger the norms become. As Sheryl Sandberg put it in Lean In, “the blunt truth is that men still run the world.” Only in the past two decades have women moved in significant numbers into leadership positions in corporate America.
The predominance of men in most of our organizations has created male cultures where masculine norms and roles are pervasive --and sometimes decisive. When a woman rises to near the top of an organization, the question may become, is she one of the boys?
The "boys" have the rules they play by, the games they play, the subjects they talk about. Will the woman fit into the group? Business is conducted on the golf course, in the locker room, on hunting trips.
And then there is the comfort factor, will we be comfortable with this woman around? Will we be comfortable with her on our executive retreat in the Caribbean?
Compounding this is the fact that as you go higher in organizations, the norms tend to become stronger. And they extend beyond the workday. Those who lead our organizations are available 24/7. There are social engagements, dinners, parties, plus the work that must get done, the decisions that must be made. You will entertain, you will be at these functions, you will see that our main client has a great time.
When you are "on" all the time, disconnects between thought and deed are more likely to be revealed. Your actions must fit the group norms or you will not remain part of the group.
In spite of this male culture, some women break the glass ceiling. The long term answer to the predominance of masculine norms is more women in our organizations, women in positions of leadership. Where women are represented proportionately across an organization, norms may slowly change. Where women actually outnumber men in significant numbers, one would expect masculine norms to give way to more feminine norms.
More troublesome are those workplaces where the masculine norms border on (or even embrace) sexual harassment, crude humor, and sexual innuendo. Polls suggest that perhaps 50% of all women in the workforce have experienced some form of harassment. A new poll taken today would probably find that percentage low.
As legally indefensible as these conditions may be, women may be reluctant to "rock the boat.” A paycheck is a paycheck. The question becomes at what cost? Some women endure very stressful working conditions that impact health and productivity just to keep a job.
"Boys will be boys" is not an acceptable response to these issues. Where dysfunctional norms impact on the quality of work life, management should exercise leadership and work to eliminate. Changing norms can be difficult but the costs here are not only to the individual but also to the organization.
Image "#METOO" by Mihai Surdu. Obtained from https://pixabay.com/en/metoo-women-harassment-sexual-2859980/
Used with permission: Public domain per CC0
© John Ballard, PhD, 2017. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace, BEST CAREER BOOK 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards