A lot of articles out there blame women for not promoting themselves and being assertive enough in the workplace. I don’t want to pick an article that activates Poe’s Law, so here’s Clay Shirkey’s rant about women. He’s clearly really concerned about a lack of diversity in his discipline, he just can’t seem to think of any way to address the problem besides blaming women for it. His problem is that women aren’t aggressive enough. Women don’t ask for raises. Women don’t exaggerate their expertise when applying for jobs. In general, we fail to self promote the way men do.
Research shows that women who do follow this advice and self promote are generally penalized. Here’s a couple of nice responses to the notion that women can just change themselves and magically the problem of under-representation will go away:
Kate Harding at Salon writes:
Women, meanwhile, are socialized to be self-sacrificing, submissive, and humble to a fault. When we deviate from that script, we’re often punished for it.
Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon briefly summarizes several studies that demonstrate this penalty.
Anna North at Jezebel says:
Society has a love-hate relationship with the “pompous blowhard,” the “self-aggrandizing jerk,” the lovable asshole. It has a hate-hate relationship with the bitch. While men who seek success in an overt, asking-for-shit way are often seen to deserve said success, women who exhibit the same exact behavior are frequently assumed to have something wrong with them….
Assertiveness is undeniably useful, and in the future I hope it’s encouraged as much in girls as it is in boys. But it’s not necessarily an indicator of talent, intelligence, or ability to actually get shit done…
“The world sucks, change yourself” is a recipe for injustice.
In the end, scientists responded no differently than other groups tested for bias. Both men and women science faculty were more likely to hire the male, ranked him higher in competency, and were willing to pay him $4,000 more than the woman. They were also more willing to provide mentoring to the male than to the female candidate.
It follows from the perception that males are more competent than females that women who self-promote and make the same demands as their equally accomplished male counterparts will be perceived as exaggerating their accomplishments more and as demanding more compensation for less skill. This bias is bound to contribute to the punishment women receive or the transgression that they perceive themselves as engaging in when they try to get ahead professionally.
The issue of socialization of women in the general population and how it impacts women professionally seems pretty well covered. We know women are socialized not to self-promote; we know there are professional penalties for deviating from the prescribed feminine role; we know this doesn’t mesh well with professional success. That’s what the 75% of women who aren’t raised in systems of religious patriarchy have to deal with, and its enough to suck.
The articles I’ve read present women’s choices here as completely logical. It’s easy, you just do the cost benefit analysis and decide between being paid what you deserve and being hated vs. being paid less than your male colleagues whose work is the same quality and having a less hostile work environment. I don’t know how it pans out for other people, and I don’t have experience with professional negotiation. But I know that I am aggressive under two circumstances: first, when I feel I have the full support of my colleagues; second, when I feel I have nothing to lose. (The existence of this series of posts would fall into that second category.)
But the internet (well, the first few pages of google hits from several attempts to find appropriate search terms) doesn’t seem to have much to say about how socialization interacts with religion. I mostly found articles claiming that women are socialized to be more religious. You probably have to dig pretty deep to find anything willing to address how religions socialize women.
Elsewhere, I’ve raised the issue of extreme religious patriarchy being a larger swath of the population than anyone discussing gender imbalance in the workplace wants to admit. I’ve written about the detrimental interaction between the public policy presumption that parents will do their best to provide for all their kids and the reality that parents in patriarchal religious sects tend to only be willing to provide for their sons.
For those of us raised in aggressively patriarchal religions, the socialization is deeper than the socialization described above that most women face. We haven’t been socialized so much as we’ve been subjected to fear conditioning. Fear conditioning is when an otherwise neutral activity (e.g. a display of self confidence) is paired with something to induce fear (e.g. severe beatings).
When I worry about doing what it takes to establish myself professionally, I am not doing a cost benefit analysis, even subconsciously, about the tradeoff between professional success and the social costs of deviating from appropriate female behavior. I pretty much know that the result of such an analysis would tell me that I need to be doing more to put myself out there. But I’m wrestling with PTSD. I’m trying to engage in behaviors that I’ve been taught my whole life will be met with violence and might even get me killed.
With religious patriarchy, there are lots of things a girl can do that are wrong. Most of the punishable offenses correspond with important skills for professional adults. A good girl should show humility, not be assertive. She should do what she’s told unquestioningly, not bring her own creativity and reasoning to bear on the situation. She shouldn’t make eye contact. She shouldn’t display pride in her accomplishments. And so on. There’s really too much here for one post, so at some point I’ll follow up with specific kinds of socialization and how they impact me professionally.
Anyone interested in paying more than lip service to diversity has to take steps to make sure that their department/profession takes steps to find ways to judge merit and potential without presuming that everyone shares the same social background. I’m not sure that I have a solution, but mindfulness on the part of those hiring is a good place to start.