How Women Work

play the gameFrom kindergarten through high school, teachers and administrators spend their days catering to different learning styles. There’s post-graduate degrees about it, there’s studies on it, volumes and volumes of ideas to assist it, there’s seminars for it, and there’s real truth to it: Some kids learn slower, some need a quick run around the lower left play-field before they can settle down to math, some need to work on their own, some need you right there to guide them. It’s openly acknowledged that boys are slower to develop, (they officially reach adolescence at age 12 while girls reach it at 10) and, generally, most teachers would probably admit that their gentlemen students need more frequent breaks to blast out some energy on the playground. So, boys and girls are different. Yep, got that. It’s not that expectations of the end goal are different, it’s that the paths that students take to reach a level of achievement can be, and are, very diverse–and educators are all about meeting these needs. Yet, after we all move on from elementary, middle, high school, and perhaps careen through college, we arrive at the workplace where everyone is expected to work in the same way. More then that, expected to want to work in the same way.

In her article “Women are at the Table, so Now What?” writer Anand Giridharadas asks the question, “how would everything in the world be different if the female half of humanity had not been more or less locked out of its design?” Focusing on the workplace, she’s in essence asking how work, meeting structure, and office-life would be different had men not been the main imagineers behind its infrastructure. In the next breath however, she describes the premise behind her question is a dangerous one, for, “to suggest that women have a distinct way of thinking  is…to flirt with the kind of logic that held them down.” Its interesting that though “distinct ways of thinking” are celebrated, catered to, and studied among children, once we sign on as employees of a workplace, our gender differences are supposed to be ignored, probably sued if acknowledged, and frowned upon if exploited–at times for very good reasons. Yet, the differences remain. Boys and girls are different, and so are men and women, and somehow acknowledging the distinctions behind our genders is nothing to be celebrated, noticed, or examined. Now that women have generally been included where we were once excluded however, Giridharadas proposes that though women are late “in coming…to the modern work force,” perhaps we are better “able to see what’s amiss” with it with our fresh (and might I add uniquely female) perspectives. The idea that something is “amiss” is not just a female perspective however, though women may be leading the search for a more balanced life within and without of the office. In her article, Giridharadas notes that last month, a number of high-powered female (and male) executives met in New York to discuss this idea of a new sort of workplace. Among the meeting-goers, the overwhelming thought “was that the culture of work in general is in a bad way, and that women’s struggles to find balance are only glimpses of a larger problem…there was widespread agreement that the culture of…white-collar American professionals bathing in the pride of being ‘crazy busy’ are pervasive and harmful” notions. Further, that “technology, in bringing the office calendar and whiteboard into bed with you, only worsens things.” In short, Giridharadas exposes what has become a burgeoning new feeling that, since women have arrived at the “table” of corporate America, we don’t really like what we see.

This whole “new” movement is almost humorously ironic. Historically, that’s why women were shut out: because, on the whole, women have been labeled as more emotional, we have more ups and downs, and we have never been able to shake the stereotype of the fickle, female heart and never being satisfied. I guess we could have seen this coming then. But all that aside, now that women are here and we don’t like what we see, how do we propose to change it? Giridharadas says that John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods questioned that exact thing in the Manhattan-meeting-of-the-corporate-minds. Mackey says that “men’s metaphors for business have tended to derive from sports, war, and Darwinian ideas,” so what would women’s business metaphors be? How would we re-imagine it? Maybe it doesn’t need to be re-imagined though, maybe women just need to be able to be women, not to strive to “make it in a man’s world” but to “make” it how they define it and let men have their world if they let us have ours. Differences: its ok, they’re a good thing. In any good sports team, coaches and managers know to play to the unique strengths of individuals players. Sure they’re a team, but distinctions are just as important. Pitchers can’t play as often as a first baseman. Their shoulders need rest and days to recover or else they risk injury and burnout. Shortstops have to be quick, catchers usually are strong and stocky. They train different, work different, and perform to their unique strengths. If that’s the business metaphor we’re working off of then, how come we’re all trying to be pitchers?

Giridharadas questions if women can “simultaneously argue for their ability to work as hard as men and suggest that no one should work that hard,” but I wonder why it has taken this long for us all to figure out that while women can do it, maybe doing it isn’t the best thing for women, men, or our families, and doing it in the way that men established for themselves is definitely not the right way for us. Ability is not in question here, it’s health, happiness, and using individual strengths and natural gifts in the proper way. Giridharadas ends her article by mentioning some strategies that the Manhattan corporates came up with as new visions for a future, better workplace. The ideas (flex hours, “digital detox days,” etc.) are labeled as “performance enhancers,” strategies that strive to appear, above all else, to be “gender-neutral.” But I have to wonder if they’re missing the exact thing they almost uncovered: that is, that we’re DIFFERENT, that neutrality won’t work just as much as workin’ like a dog man hasn’t worked for women. So why skirt around the primary issue? Why not celebrate “that women have a distinct way of thinking,” and thus can work in distinct ways? Why does distinction suddenly bring out the less-than symbol? And why is removing all distinctions the answer? “I’m very definitely a woman and I enjoy it” (Marilyn Monroe) and I have no interest in making it in a man’s world, nor do I have any interest in both of us working in a gender-neutral environment. If men want to work like men, let them, and let women work like women.

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– <3 A. 

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