Given the Syrian war, the war on ISIS and the spectre of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, it seems that the last thing we need is a war between the genders on Australian soil. Yet I fear that is what we have.
Maybe it is just my age (52) and maybe it is because I was trained as an engineer and have spent my career as a minority – but my career has been littered with micro-disappoints and micro-frustrations. After a few dark years feeling that the ‘glass ceiling’ definitely did exist and now I was a mother, my head was getting sore. Up until then, I didn’t believe the glass ceiling existed. I guess that is why it is called the glass ceiling! In my job hunt as a senior exec in government after becoming a mum, I was interviewed by all male panels and quizzed about how I would be able to care for my child if I was working full time. I was told by another that they did not hire me because they did not think I would answer emails at 11PM if I was a mum. I was told by the third recruiter that the final (again government) job was already sewn up by a mate of the chair.
Even more recently, I was part of a final interview only to be told by the chair that he was fully confident that the best person for the role was always hired and that he thought that women were looking for a free ‘leg up’ and that current focus on diversity meant that there was a range of ‘incompetents’ running round inside government. Yet another micro-frustration and micro-disappointment…
In my role as a leadership coach for female engineers, I see so many amazingly talented female engineers operating at a level below their capabilities. I hear their micro-frustrations and micro-disappointments. I hear women in organisations setting up their own groups to support each other but then denied any funding – despite government direction to address the gender issue. I see short lists for graduate roles include 1 women and 15 men. I see women grossly underrepresented in even middle management roles in engineering organisations. Fifty percent of female engineers leave the sector. I have seen women forced to step away from their role because she could not manage the travel as a widow with an only child. Women are leaving the profession, not because they prefer to be stay at home mums, but because it just gets too hard with lack of flexibility and the relentless challenges of being a minority in a male dominated and aggressive organisational culture.
But it seems that my male friends and colleagues are equally pissed.
Women are taking all the jobs. They are tired of the pressure of being the main breadwinner. They don’t get flexibility at work but still have to help with childcare. They have had no pay rise in years and many have suffered from retrenchment, erosion of earnings and less secure work. Divorce rates are going through he roof and men feel like they are getting the ‘short straw’. They walk away with less than 50% of the assets and are cut off from their children. Men are suffering high rates of unemployment and suicide. This is the story of the ‘angry white male’ and this phenomenon is considered by some as partially responsible for the so called ‘Trump Effect’.
On the national scale, we are seeing a spat between men’s rights groups and women’s rights groups over the showing of the documentary ‘The Red Pill’ which was produced by Cassie Jaye. The film makes the point that men have difficulties in the family court, suffer very high levels of suicide and are way more likely to be killed in workplace accidents. The showing of the film has been hindered by activists who don’t want the film to be shown.
It seems like life has not worked out as expected for either men or women. Both are full of resentment and are looking for someone to blame – and the risk here is the women will blame men and men blame women. As you can tell, this is not conducive to happy marriages or cooperative workplaces. It will cause unnecessary tension and frustration and will dramatically reduce well-being and workplace effectiveness.
The simple facts are that everyone seems to be looking for promotion – but there are few roles out there. The reality is that most organisations are pyramid shaped where the roles at the top are scarce and tightly held. The quality of life in many organisations has declined with the huge rate of merges of smaller companies the the massive disruption to whole industries.
So what are the solutions? Here are some thoughts.
- Finding satisfaction in our current roles in organisations
- Providing learning opportunities through greater rotations at the same level
- Building organisations that are equitable and engage the capabilities of everyone in the organisation
- Providing flexibility for men and women to life satisfying lives and care for their families
- Building the capabilities of individuals to listen to one another to enable expression and healing of the hurt and frustration.
- Providing forums for debate and sharing of the issues in a safe and constructive manner (mini ‘truth and reconciliation commissions)
I have no doubt that others more qualified than me can add to this list.
As individuals, we can listen to each other and count our own blessings. Afterall I have just described a ‘first world problem’ and we are not the victims of war in Syria and we have not been raped and sold as sex slaves in ISIS occupied territories. We also don’t live with missiles pointed to us as the citizens of South Korea do. Gratitude goes a long way.