How To Overcome Gender Bias On The Job

“In the nineteenth century, government agencies in Washington had, almost without exception, flatly refused to hire even one female.” – David Brinkley (Washington Goes to War, 1988)

On the plane the other day, I overhead a conversation between two women. One was complaining about her job, her boss, her fellow workers — everyone but herself. “It’s a dead-end job,” she concluded. “As a woman, I don’t stand a chance.”

According to some sociologists and college professors, women really do get a bad deal. Statistics show that women don’t make as much as their male counterparts. It is also claimed, but less often proved, that women get fewer bonuses and promotions and that they eventually bump into a glass ceiling above which they are not “allowed” to ascend. The reason? Gender prejudice, sexual harassment, and outright discrimination.

I’m sure there is some prejudice against women in the workplace, but in my experience:

* Gender prejudice comes equally from women and from men.

* It is as often partial as negative.

As far as a glass ceiling is concerned, it may well exist in some businesses — but not in any I’ve known. I’ve never been in any business situation whatsoever where there was any talk about or action toward limiting the progress of a woman.

That’s one man’s experience. Here is what two women recently profiled in some business magazine (which I can’t identify, because the name of the magazine isn’t printed on the few pages I ripped out) had to say:

* Cherri M. Musser, Chief Information Officer, e-GM: “My belief is that you don’t focus on being female. You focus on getting the job done.”

* Judy Estrin, CEO, Packet Design Inc.: “Women who stress out about being female don’t do themselves or anyone else any good.”

Good businesses pay attention not to themselves but to their prospects, their products, their customers, and their profits. Such enterprises have no time, and zero inclination, to sacrifice productivity by maintaining prejudices of any kind.

Bad businesses tend to look inward. They aim to control the habits, behavior, appearance, and sometimes even the thinking of their employees. This eventually leads to death. While they are on that downhill slope, they are capable of tolerating all kinds of bad things — including discrimination against women.

If you are a woman, the best things you can do for yourself are to focus on the job, work hard, avoid politics, and maintain a good attitude. Chances are you’ll do fine. If there really is a gender problem (as many people call it nowadays), recognize that you are working for a bad business that is probably on its way down. Don’t waste any time correcting it. Get out and find some place that appreciates your contributions.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]
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  • Frustrated

    This is blatantly untrue based on the research. Personally, I’ve had the top numbers in my division for about a year and half plus open praise from other departments that I am the best to work with, asked what the expectations would be for me to reach the next level, hit those expectations and been given and uncomfortable conversation about “not wanting to set a timeline for things.” The other thing I was told is by my boss was that he “doesn’t want to overwhelm me.” When was the last time a guy told a guy they don’t want to overwhelm them? Articles like this are what perpetuates the denial that there’s a problem.

  • GenderBiasIsReal

    I understand what this article is attempting to do (encourage women to try their best without being discouraged by gender issues), but it completely delegitimizes the VERY REAL problems that women face. In fact, this article is full of the exact type of subtle gender discrimination that currently plagues our workplaces. Gone are the days of blatant sexual harassment, yes, but society still devalues women and prevents them from achieving their full potential. I do agree that women tend to be perpetrators of this discrimination just as often as men; this is a societal issue, not a problem with men. However, it’s ridiculous to say that gender discrimination isn’t a problem just because criticisms of women are sometimes “partial” and people don’t explicitly say they intend for there to be a glass ceiling. The fact remains that it’s much harder for women to succeed professionally than men, due to inherent social biases. Discrimination is subtle and insidious. It’s no one’s fault individually, nor is it the fault of men in particular. However, it’s extremely important that the issue is addressed and that both men and women take steps to correct it. Unaddressed, the issue will simply compound upon itself. This article claims that we should simply ignore the problem, which is the exact opposite of what we should do.

  • LivingInGenderBias

    Spoken by someone who clearly is not overwhelmed with facts. I would love to hear from females that have worked side-by-side with this individual over the years. Mr. Ford states “If there really is a gender problem (as many people call it nowadays), recognize that you are working for a bad business that is probably on its way down.” This would suggest that most science and technology companies, financial companies and VC companies (to name a few) are on their way down. What planet is he from?