Of course, another reason why it sucks to make individual women responsible for defeating systemic gender discrimination is that you’re asking women to behave in a way which is unnatural to them in order to succeed. I’m aware that in making this argument I run the risk of sounding as though I’m saying “Women aren’t as good as men and that’s why they find it hard to succeed”. I’m not saying that at all (fairly obviously) but I am saying that women are a part of and live within this culture of systemic discrimination against them.  It’s therefore inevitable that women will have learned behaviours as a result which will not be helpful to them in trying to succeed in the world of work, if they haven’t actually internalised the discrimination.

From when children are tiny we discriminate between the sexes. From telling new parents how cute and pretty their female babies are while commenting on how big and strong boy babies are, to encouraging boys to run around and get dirty and girls to sit quietly and play nicely, from the toys we give them to the way we talk to them and how we treat them in school*, we teach girls and boys to behave differently, and we behave differently towards them. Boys are encouraged to speak up, to be assertive and competitive and to value being active and strong while girls are taught to keep quiet, to be empathetic and cooperative and to value being kind and nurturing. That these are the classic “women’s” skills, of the sort that companies are supposed to need to be more diverse and effective, an argument often used in favour of promoting more women, itself promotes this idea that men and women do and should behave differently.

And then we tell women that they have to act, not as a lifetime and their whole society has conditioned them to act, but in a completely different way if they want to get on. And if they can’t do that, why, it then becomes their fault that they don’t succeed. To return to my earlier metaphor of running the 100 metres, it’s as though the competitor with the suitcase full of bricks strapped to their leg is then told that they have to run the race backwards as well.

More shortly

*I just picked one article at random here, and although it’s from the US I’m sure that things aren’t that different in the UK. Google “gender bias in education” if you want more.