August 7, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Continuing my response to Olga Khazan’s article in The Atlantic about women bullying women at work.

Now, it’s possible that Joyce Benenson’s take on the situation has validity, but doesn’t fully explain women’s alleged antipathy for each other in the workplace. As I said yesterday, Khazan makes no effort to establish that such a problem exists. All she does is cite a few studies to the effect that female employees tend to prefer male bosses. That’s lightyears from showing that, in some general way, women in the workplace seek to undermine each other, much less that men don’t, or do so, but do it less.

But, assuming there’s a problem, Benenson’s analysis, while perfectly appropriate, ignores the fact that, in other situations, women seem to get along just fine. If, for example, women’s soccer teams have less team unity than do men’s, I’ve never heard about it. So it may be that, in many situations, the need to meet certain goals, accomplish certain tasks, simply supersedes the tendency to compete for male attention. Scoring a goal might be one of those needs. So might effectively representing a client in a trial. In short, Benenson’s observations may be right, but too limited to thoroughly describe women’s interactions at work.

As I said yesterday, the last thing Khazan wants is for readers to get the idea that perhaps we should just allow women and men to be the way they are. No, for her, we must all bend over backwards so that both sexes can change. Needless to say, she never explains why we should do that. Khazan tells us the workplace must change because women can’t get along with each other. Even if that’s true, I can think of easier, more rational approaches to the problem than wholesale changes to the workplace that, by the way, Khazan never gets around to describing.

Whatever the case, allow me to make an observation that might throw some light on the situation. Men tend to see their role as that of provider. A combination of economic necessity and feminist hectoring has encouraged women to do more paid work than previously, but they still strongly identify as primarily oriented toward children and family. That’s revealed in countless studies and surveys. Dr. Catherine Hakim notes that strong tendency in her research and surveys like one that appeared a couple of years ago in Forbes show a whopping 84% of women preferring to work less than they do.

And that of course is already considerably less than men do. Indeed, only about 56% of women over the age of 16 are in the workforce at all, i.e. working or looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compares with about 70% of men. Men who work full-time put in about 42 hours per week while women who work full-time spend about 38 hours at work. About 21 million women work part-time while about 14 million men do. Single fathers with kids in the home earn over 50% more than single mothers do.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that men are far more motivated to bring home the family bacon than are women and women are far more motivated to be full-time parents. That’s particularly true of women in high-end occupations, i.e. exactly the ones with whom Khazan is concerned. (Note that she didn’t write a word about blue-collar women.) As Judith Warner and numerous studies have demonstrated, women in the type of high-stress occupations that Khazan discussed are likely to drop out of the workforce when their first child comes along. They’re likely to be married to high-earning men, so they can afford to do so. And when little Andy or Jenny starts school, those same women show a marked and frankly-admitted tendency to stay out of the workforce altogether or only return in a much reduced capacity.

In short, since they’re the ones most likely to drop out, they’re the ones most likely to be targeted by competitors. After all, if you’re competing to, say, make partner at a prestigious law firm, you’re highly motivated to do what you can to winnow the population of competitors. And if you know that young women are the easiest to convince to quit work and be Mommy, why not give them the push that’ll send them out the door and that they may just secretly want?

That brings us to the true bete noire of Khazan’s piece, the dreaded Queen Bee. She’s the older woman who’s made it in the tough world of the high-end male workplace, the law firm, the brokerage firm, etc. She’s gotten there by putting aside all other motivations. She doesn’t have kids; her work is her life. For years, decades, she’s put in impossible hours to succeed in a man’s world. In one of the weirdest parts of a very weird and contradictory article, Khazan refers to those women as “antifeminist.” Of course there was a time when the hard-driving woman who’s conquered the male world was the very ideal of feminism. Somehow, Khazan now figures they’re the opposite. Needless to say, she never explains why.

In any case, Queen Bees are supposedly extra tough on their female subordinates and we’re meant to understand that that’s a bad thing. Of course, in keeping with the rest of the piece, Khazan never inquires into how QBs treat male subordinates. After all, if she were to find that they were as hard on men as on women, that would pretty much obviate the entire article. It’s in writing about the QBs that Khazan truly goes off the rails.

Women like this, Ellemers says, “learned the hard way that the way to succeed in the workplace is to make sure that people realize they are not like other women. It’s not something about these women. It is the way they have learned to survive in the organization.”

But of course QBs aren’t like other women. They are very exactly not like other women. Again, countless studies and surveys demonstrate that very, very few women are likely to commit the kind of time and effort to a job that men are. The Queen Bees are the rare exceptions. They’re the ones Judith Warner didn’t interview, the ones who weren’t part of the study of University of Michigan Law and University of Chicago Business School grads who turned out to prefer motherhood to the prospect of someday making partner. Yes, they’ve “learned to survive in the organization,” but most importantly, they did so because they were more strongly motivated by work than by the things most women value more.

So it should be no surprise that they’re demanding of their female subordinates. They know to a virtual certainty that those women are far more likely than the men to drop out and so they set for them the type of obstacles that will prove if the younger ones have what it takes to make it in the organization or whether they’ll opt out.

This is what Khazan thinks of as sinister and unfeminist. But in fact, it’s just a standard process of winnowing out. Every organization does it and to both men and women alike.

Which brings me to tomorrow’s topic. Is what these female managers doing so bad?

 

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