Women's Issues Are Not Just Women's Issues
General experience indicates that 'husky' girls-those who are just a little on the heavy side-are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters." This gem of advice comes from the "1943 Guide to Hiring Women."
Women were told it was their patriotic duty to get out of the kitchen and get into the factories to replace the men who were fighting in World War II. Fortunately, as more women have entered the workforce, the kind of thinking that produces advice on husky vs. slim hiring has changed.
CommunityAmerica CU COO Lisa Ginter and other Midwest credit union executives this week announced the Women's Association of Credit Union Leaders. This got me thinking. Do women really need their own organizations and conferences?
Generally speaking, male executives have respect for the work product of their female peers. At the same time, there are certain unwritten rules about men during work hours that women may not be aware of. I found The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhahn particularly interesting. She surveyed and interviewed men at all levels of the corporate structure, allowing them to remain anonymous to really get at what they thought about their experiences working with women.
What she found was not so much sexism as misunderstanding of each other. I celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary last week. As any of you who have been in a long-term relationship know, men and women speak a different language. This translates in the office too, maybe even more so.
While at work, men expect no excuses for not getting something done, and you don't ask why you're doing something. These are a couple of the many differences between the sexes highlighted in the book. Women, Feldhahn contends, are more likely to ask why but just need another way of asking it.
Still, some of the disparity in the workplace is justified. On the average week, 5.1% of women were absent from work for reasons other than injury or illness versus their male counterparts at 2.7%, according to the Department of Labor. About.com blogger Susan M. Heathfield predicted women will continue to have "primary responsibility for home and family matters, thus affecting work attendance negatively."
The American Enterprise Institute has published Women's Figures: The Economic Progress of Women in America, which states that childless women at age 30 earn 95 cents to a man's dollar, but working mothers earn 75% as much as men.
The issue is a Catch 22: If men continue to make more money, it economically makes sense for the mother to take off from work rather than the father. Yet, if equality is to improve, the mother's absenteeism must be reduced.
Earlier this year I attended a Woman Up! session given by Holly Herman at the Maryland & D.C. Credit Union Association. Prior to that, I probably would have said there's no need for training specific to women, but there truly are differences in thinking extending well beyond what I've outlined above. Holly instructed that women are likely to bring up an idea, and they hear "no" as finite. Men bring up an idea and men hear "no" as "not right now." If they really think it's a good one, they'll repeat it until someone either tells him "yes" or "shut up!" Knowing the rules is crucial to women for playing the game. It's not about changing who you are but about adapting in order to grow into a game changer.
The launch of WACUL also reminded me of a 2005 column by former publisher Mike Welch. I truly enjoyed working for Mike, but reading it now, I find his column offensive. He discusses an informal women's group as a "gabfest" for "the girls." I wasn't in on it, but I doubt they were hair-braiding, pillow-fight filled gossip sessions. And, of course, Mike did enjoy his role as provocateur.
He went on to say that when he was CEO of CUES, he allowed some members to pressure him into one no-boys-allowed breakout session, which he characterized as a flop. Excluding men is part of the problem. While women are working so hard and forming their own groups to learn about how to play the corporate game already in place, men really need to be pushed to learn about dealing with women for the good of any organization.
Women aren't the only ones to benefit from this. As WACUL has pointed out from the McKinsey & Company "Women Matter" report, companies with three or more women in senior management ranked higher in all areas of organizational excellence studied than companies with no women at the top.
Credit unions have done better than their for-profit counterparts. Just 2.5% of CEOs in the American finance and insurance industries are women. Among credit unions, the overall figure is 55%, according to CUNA's 2009 Staff Salary Survey. Delve deeper and you see that just 24% of CEOs of billion-dollar credit unions are women and only 12% of credit union CEOs at institutions between $500 million and $1 billion are women. Conversely, more than half of the CEOs at credit unions under $50 million in assets, which CUNA measured at various sub-categories, were women.
Credit unions have provided great opportunities for bright, qualified women and must continue its strides along this path, lest we perpetuate pearls of wisdom such as this one from the 1943 guide: "Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day."
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