Following the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association’s Woman of the Year award, I received a variety of emails about two blog posts I wrote, “The Pink Male Elephant in the Room” and “Why the HBA Women of the Year Award is a Big Deal”. One reader provided her opinion, which I have published with her permission. Her comments made me think of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in that, someday, awards might be given based on merit, and gender becomes a non-issue. While we are at it, let’s throw in race as well. Stereotypes remain prevalent. Here is what she said.
Person of the Year
“Being an older female, I grew up when women were even less accepted in Science than they are today. I still remember talking to a guidance counselor who was concerned that I had a “C” in typing and ”D” in Home Economics, but did not even acknowledge the outstanding work in my Biology class! He was worried about what I was going to do if I was not good at cooking or typing. That was in the mid 1970s.” She continues, “Do I think things are better now? Much. But, I am still very sad to see how few women still seem to be in science, at least in prominent roles. What I hope to see in my lifetime, and maybe before the end of my useful working life — a time when there is no need to single out women or men, but when a “Person of the Year” award in whatever industry has an equal shot at going to a male or female — and a special deal is not expected for one gender!”
I could not agree more.
Gender Differences and Stereotypes
The respondent continues to provide her insights. “The post about the Pink Male Elephant in the Room also struck me. I have attended meetings where males definitely dominate. It is very hard at times to get involved in some of the discussions. I am not a Ph.D., which also gives me pause in opening my mouth in those situations. It seems harder to be taken seriously, even if you have experience in a field, without that designation. I think that can be true for anyone, male or female. It gets even more fun, because although I am employed as a chemist and product application manager, my degree is in microbiology. In a room with many men and a few women, frankly, there is just too much testosterone in the room! This leads to some extreme posturing- everyone wants to be THE expert, always right and not to be questioned, knowing everything, having the ONLY answer to the problem at hand. Thing is, all ideas should be welcome, and there is not always only one way to do something. It seems, in general, women are better at seeing that problems have multiple solutions, looking for connections, and at being cooperative/helpful, rather than competitive. Perhaps industry needs to find ways to channel the differences that seem at least to be inherent (generally) in males and females, into prominent positions that can utilize these differences? Sometimes competitiveness is required, but other times cooperation gets you farther.”
I found the reader’s comments to be very insightful for the following reasons. First, gender differences do exist. We all should recognize and celebrate these and utilize them to our benefit as she suggests. I have read research which indicates women are better than men at multitasking. However, does this apply to all men? Probably not. Second, her comments reinforced the problem we all face in dealing with stereotypes. The reader lumped most men into the competitive bucket and most women into the cooperative/helpful bucket. I imagine both Venus Williams and Ghandi would take exception to being labeled as such. In one of my previous careers, I worked in an environment where estrogen was dominant. Men consisted of less than 8% of the staff. Competition was very high, while cooperation was very low. Unfortunately, as long as we as a society continue to reinforce stereotypes, we won’t ever be able to be truly open-minded and embrace the strengths and benefits of the gender differences which do exist.