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St. Luke 6:38

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Engendering Gender Greatness
by Al Vivian
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About 30 years ago, the U.S. workforce saw the first massive wave of women working in, and competing for jobs that had traditionally been reserved only for men (the so called “blue jobs”). Prior to that, women were relegated to “pink jobs” (secretarial, nursing, teaching, etc…). The mid-90’s ushered in a shift in the thinking of society at large that was no longer surprised to see women successfully holding managerial positions in these traditionally male jobs. Many social scientist consider this to be the biggest transformation in the history of the U.S. workforce.


In spite of all this historic change, men and women are still having difficulties co-existing in the workplace. Recognizing that 30 years is not a massive amount of time, I remain astonished that the gender issue continues as a challenge in the workplace. Why? The gender gap is not like the racial divide in which one group was forced to live on the other side of the “rail-road tracks”, or where the opposing groups were legally seperated by a segregated school system. Males and females have had centuries of practice closely interacting with one another prior to co-existing in the workplace setting.


Logically thinking, gender should be the easiest diversity challenge to fix. Consider the facts. We all have someone of the “opposing group” already in our families (a brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, etc…). Additionally, we were not raised and acculturated to loathe the opponent, as is typically the case with other sensitive deminsions of diversity like sexual orientation and/or religion. These are people we were taught to love and respect. In fact males are not only taught to love and respect females, we’re told to cherish, care for and even protect them. So why then do many of us go to work and alienate and mistreat this same group of people? Why don’t men and women get along perfectly at work? Because we’re confused -- especially us men. And I believe one of the main reasons we’re confused is beause we are dealing with two entirely different sets of rules for male/female interactions -- one set for home and another set for work (I’ll speak more to this later). Our society has taught both gender groups that males are supposed to be in charge and that females are supposed to follow our lead. And many women who say they “… don’t believe that men should naturally be in charge”, default to this societal norm in their actions –even in the workplace. In short, traditionally:


· Boys were raised to rule the world; and

· Girls were raised to rule the home.


But all of that began to change with the aforementioned gender revolution that hit the workforce 30 years ago. Organizations that plan to remain viable must change their corporate culture to match the benefits offered by this societial change. Furthermore, they must ensure that their employees’ mind-sets expand to better understand the opposite sex.


The Need To Create “Gender Greatness”

Gender Greatness is a term I created and define as being achieved when both men and women are knowledgeable about the mutual benefits created by gender equity and are enthusiastically committed to maintaining an environment that supports and engenders the consistency of that equity.


There are a multitude of reasons why organizations need to work hard to achieve Gender Greatness and to maximize the benefits of diversity. The three most pressing and obvious reasons, however, are law suits, talent shortages and the purchasing power of women.

· Recent Law Suits and Settlements


Just in the past year alone, we have seen a large number of record setting gender-bias related law suits and settlements. Amongst them are: Morgan Stanley ($54 million), Boeing ($72.5 million), and Walmart (expected to be around $1 billion, if it maintains class action status).


· Looming Talent Shortage

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there is a massive global talent shortage just around the corner that is so large it will control employment trends regardless of how the economy performs.

Text Box: Female Purchasing Power

l	Women wield $6 trillion in buying power, which is 85% of $7 trillion in total personal consumption expenditures. (EBSCOhost, 2002)
l	Women purchase about 2/3 of vehicles and influence 80% of all sales. (Business Week, 2004)
l	43% of people with more than $500,000 in assets were female in 2000.  (Private Banker International)
l	By 2010 half of all U.S. wealth is expected to be in the hands of women. (Private Banker International)
l	Women spent more on technology in 2003 than men; $55 Billion out of $96 Billion. (Consumer Electronics Assoc., 2003)Beginning as early as 2008 there will be a 29 million personnel shortage on the North American continent alone. 10 million of those unfillable jobs will be here in the U.S. In other words, starting as soon as 3 years from now, there will be 10 million more jobs, than there are qualified people to fill them. This will shift the balance of power away from the employer and into the hands of the employee. What’s causing this shortage? “Baby Boomers” are starting to retire and the trend will last up to 20 years. Additionally, people had fewer children globally from 1966 to 1984, as a result there is no projected back-fill. Baby Boomers currently make up 60% of the “Prime-age Workforce” (those workers 25-54 years old). Not even a mass influx of immigrants can fill this gap. Add to that, the bulk of these retiring Baby Boomers will be white males (the only major demographic group that is decreasing in our workforce), and the majority of people entering the workforce will be everything but white males. Additionally, the majority of these new workers with college degrees and beyond will be women. Currently females outnumber males in college and are earning 170,000 more bachlor degrees per year than males. Females also out number males in law school, and they are rapidly increasing their percentage in medical schools and MBA programs.


· Women’s Purchasing Power

Women are the instant entre into every major demographic group. Whether it be baby boomers, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, conservatives, people with disabilities, etc, women intersect all of these groups. You may say, “So do men,” and you’d be right, but the major difference is that men aren’t making the majority of purchasing decisions. Women make 85% of the personal consumer purchasing decisions in America today (that equates to $6 trillion out of a $7 trillion market). Additionally, women outnumber men (larger group) and they out live men making them more likely to inherit more wealth. Further, research shows that people who are accustomed to being overlooked, mistreated or second-guessed, are more likely to become repeat customers to a vendor that treats them in a fair and respectable manner.


Pay Differential

If you compare the average pay for full-time, year-round male and female workers in 2003 (the most current figures available from the U.S. Department of Labor), you would find that for every $1 made by a man, the average women was paid 78 cents. 22 cents may not seem like a lot to some, but that equates to a 22% difference. If you multiply that per every dollar made over an entire worklife it can truly add up.  According to a recent study from the AFL-CIO, a 25 year old female working full time year round who retires at the age of 65 will earn $523,000 less than the average man that works the same amount of time.


We’ve always been told that “education is the great equalizer”. Well apparently not when it comes to pay across gender lines. Indicators show that the pay differential is actually largest amongst the most highly educated. A portion of this gap is attributed to work/life balance issues, and the fact that women may be overlooked because they tend not to be as vocal about their contributions; however, the proponderence of the evidence shows that the major cause of the disparity is that men tend to undervalue the contributions made by their female counterparts.


Understanding The Different Types Of Sexism

On the road to Gender Greatness, there are many potholes and speed bumps that must be maneuvered, but the biggest obstacle is a roadblock called sexism. Please understand that the vast majority of gender bias in America is unintentional. In this country, as in most on the planet, we were raised in and live with a patriarchal legacy. What is patriarchy? According to Allan G. Johnson in his book The Gender Knot, “A society is patriarchal to the degree that it is male-dominated, male-identified, and male-centered”. This society constantly sends us covert and overt messages about our “acceptable” gender roles. As a result, there is no way that any of us, male or female, could have grown up in America without being impacted by and/or with sexism.


So that we are all singing from the same sheet of music, the definition I use for sexism and the definition I constructed for sexist are as follows:


· Sexism -- a set of attitudes and behaviors towards people that judge or belittle them on the basis of their gender, or that perpetuate stereotypical assumptions about gender roles.


· Sexist -- a person who, knowingly or unknowingly, practices or engages in behaviors that create, endorse, encourage or perpetuate an environment and/or organizational system that benefits one gender at the expense of the other.


Based on these definitions both men and women can be sexist. However, it is my opinion that the vast majority of women are not. However most men unknowingly are due to being accultrated in a patriarchal society who’s imagery, norms and policies consistently tell us that we (men) are supposed to be in charge.


When conducting my Engendering Gender Greatness seminar I ask participants “What comes to your minds when you think of a sexist?” Their reponses are not incorrect, but they are incomplete. The typical responses fall primarily only into one of the three technical categories for sexism -- Hostile Sexism. The categories are:

· Hostile Sexism: Antagonistic in nature; blames women for their plight.

· Benevolent Sexism: Chivalrous in nature; excludes women by trying to “shield and protect” them.

· Ambivalent Sexism: Contradictory in nature; a state of confusion created from having contradictory views on gender.


Hostile sexism is the most obvious and visible form. As a result, it has become the least practiced because even the most hostile sexist usually knows better than to be that obvious. Most men who are sexist, and again I do believe most men unknowingly are, tend to fit in the ambivalent category. We’re stuck in a state of confusion as to how we should behave and interact with women at work. As a result, we tend to remain in a frozen state; too afraid to do anything different because it may be seen as sexist, and too ashamed to ask questions of our female counterparts because we may say something that confirms to them (and reveals to ourselves) that we are in fact sexist.


Understanding The Gender Confusion

As previously mentioned, I believe most of our confusion is created by contradictory rules for home and work. One example is the way we handle chores. Not in all homes, but in most we divide the chores based on gender – Indoor chores for females; outdoor chores for males (sons and daughters included). Whether by design or default, with or without conversation, this is the norm in the overwhelming majority of American households. But without fail, we expect 100% of our workforce to leave home, go to work and not only adopt, but automatically endorse a mindset that says “gender has no bearing whatsoever on the assignment of positions or duties”.


This confusion multiplies when men get rewarded at home for being “chivalrous” and then ridiculed at work for doing what they feel is “gentlemanly”. Even more confusing is when men get rewarded for being chivalrous not only at home, but also at work by many women. Later they repeat the same behavior expecting further praise, only to be denegraded for being seen as “condescending”.


As for women, they get rewarded at home for being feminine, but devalued at work for doing the same. As a result, they’re forced to emphasize their more masculine traits to be seen as capable enough for leadership. If they do that too well, they’ll have their sexual orientation questioned. When they assert the level of authority granted by their positions, they get labeled a “b..…” for simply expecting the same level of respect their male peers take for granted. Even worse, they sometimes get this treatment from other women. The latter is most troubling because it confounds the average guy, and provides ammunition to the hostile sexist.


How Organizations React To Sexism

An important part of combating sexism is understanding the process of how organizations respond once sexism is identified. According to research conducted by Judith Palmer, et al, there are eight (8) stages that organizations typically go through when reacting to sexism.


Below is a brief overview of each stage combined with insights (or opinions) garnered through my experiences over time working with many organizations:

1. Unaware

· At this stage the organization does not realize that issues of sexism exist. As a result, sexism goes unchecked.

2. Denial

· The organization begins to realize that issues exist, but won’t acknowledge them. Partially because acknowledgement equates to responsibility.

3. Critical Incident

· The organization begins acknowledging the issues. Usually not because they were forward thinking, but because of a critical incident (lawsuit, EEOC complaint, loss of a client, etc…) that made it too obvious to merely sweep under the rug.

4. Reaction

· The most common reaction is a feeling of “How could this be happening to us?” Now the organization is forced to investigate itself. However, the goal usually is not to resolve the issues, but to attempt to prove that the complaint is “…without merit”.

5. Pattern Recognition

· The investigative research starts to reveal patterns of inequitable treatment. The organization comes to realize that the issues are real and systemic.

6. Bureaucracy

· Bureaucrats decide that the issues are too big, too risky and too costly to ignore.


Critical Mass

7. Vision

· This is the most crucial stage. This is where the organization truly reveals itself. It will decide to either, A.) adopt new values and improve the organization; or B.) provide lip service and cosmetic change.

8. Action

· Depending upon which option was chosen above, the organization will either; A.) change the system and train its people; or B.) provide “spin”, superficial training and no systemic change.


Closing Thoughts

It is a well known fact that people are the most valuable asset in every organization. Organizations that value technology over people quickly learn that technology rapidly loses its value, as the industry is ever evolving. What was once cutting-edge soon becomes obsolete, and technology cannot manage people. The organizations that achieve the rare balance where both males and females can maximize their potential, without masking their natural differences or negatively impacting one another, will be more productive, cohesive, and client-friendly. In short, the most successful organizations will be those that learn to Engender Gender Greatness.



About The Author

Professional Literature 002Al Vivian is the President and CEO of Basic Diversity, Inc. (BASIC). BASIC is a full service cultural diversity training and consulting firm that has been operating nationally for thirty (30) years. Their client list includes The Coca Cola Company, Ford Motor Company, McDonalds, N.C. State University, U.S. Army and various municipalities. Al has provided diversity counsel to civic and religious leaders, political officials, and television news personnel. He has provided diversity commentary to various media outlets including CNN, FOX, NBC, PBS, Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Chicago Sun Times, and WSB News Radio. Vivian learned about managing diversity very early in life via personal interactions with members of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff (Andy Young, Jesse Jackson, Dorothy Cotton …etc.). Vivian later honed his skills as an Officer in the United States Army, where he held numerous executive positions, including Equal Opportunity Officer, and rose to the rank of Captain before leaving in 1991 to lead the team at Basic Diversity. The Human Resources veteran is a member of the American Society for Training & Development and the Society for Human Resource Management. Al’s military awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Parachute Badge. Al has previously served as a mentor in Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, and is a Deacon at Faith Christian Center in Smyrna, GA. He also sits on the boards of The U.S. Fund for UNICEF, SW Chapter and The C.T. Vivian Leadership Institute.

Basic Diversity, Inc. is best known for their “Race Awareness Workshop” which has been evaluated as the most effective race relations seminar in the nation, boasting an 86%-94% effectiveness rating.