My friend Caroline raised a good point yesterday, which is, as it were, the reverse of the ‘victim-blaming’ argument against advising women to be more like men in order to get on. Do we even want to encourage women to be more like men? Isn’t that just saying that women aren’t good enough as they are? I can, indeed, see that argument, and the victim-blaming argument. And I can totally understand and support that discrimination needs to be tackled systemically at the roots, and we must do this.
The problem with tackling discrimination at the roots, though, is that it’s so slow. Take the example I’ve used before in this series of posts, that of getting equal representation of men and women on boards. At current rate of progress, it might take twenty-five years from when the issue was first discussed before we actually have equal representation of women and men on main boards. Take equal pay. Forty six years after the Equal Pay Act, we still don’t have equal pay between men and women. And so on, and so forth; these are just two aspects of discrimination, remember. And in the meantime women are being discriminated against every day.
I mentioned yesterday that Lean In was a wonderful book for me. I read it after around thirty years of working in a male-dominated industry and seeing male colleagues getting promoted around and above me and other female colleagues, many of them no better than us and some worse, and I couldn’t understand it. I was doing my best, so why wasn’t I seeing the same results as my male colleagues? The only explanation I could come up with was that I wasn’t good enough; that in some important way which I couldn’t discern and nobody seemed able to explain to me, I was somehow lacking. It wasn’t until I read Lean In that I realised that I was indeed lacking, and that what I lacked was a Y chromosome and all its other accoutrements.
I can’t tell you how much of a relief this was. It wasn’t all my fault. For the best part of thirty years I’d been struggling and doing worse than my male colleagues, trying to run with a suitcase of bricks tied to my leg, if you will, and believing that the reason that so many of them sprinted past me was because I wasn’t good enough. For years I’d been running the way I’d been taught to run all my life, and then being told that my running wasn’t good enough, that it wasn’t proper running, that my running didn’t count. And then I read Lean In, and a blinding light dawned. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t that I was paranoid. There really was something weird and unspoken going on. It wasn’t just me.