Saturday, August 18, 2007

An Unforeseen Consequence

Evidently, a lot of younger women entered the work world utterly bereft of the coping mechanisms that years of sexism at the high school, college and grad school levels built into their predecessors (including me). It's certainly great that it's evidently no longer weird for a girl to be smart, ambitious and career-focused in high school, college and grad school, but a disappointing side effect of that progress is the shock that young women feel when they hit the wall of institutional blindness to their differing approaches, needs and value propositions. Judging by the opt-out revolution and the questions I get whenever I give speeches, many younger women are not only ill-equipped to handle the sexism - or even the inhospitability - they encounter once they start working in traditional places of business. They are also astonished by it.

Sexism is alive and well. It's impossible to look at the number of women in top positions in any arena (business, law, government, academia, entertainment, the media, medicine) and conclude otherwise. For all sorts of reasons - some related to institutional inflexibility, some to narrow-minded biases, some, no doubt, to white male protectionism, some to women's own failure or unwillingness to understand how the games are played and won - the flood of women who enter all these arenas thins to a trickle at the management and decision-maker levels and then dries to a few drops at the top. It's very troubling to me to think that the progress we've made is itself helping to impede further progress.

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