In retrospect, surely Don Lemon appreciates the fortunate timing of his inevitable dismissal by CNN. That his news broke the very same hour we learned that the repugnant Tucker Carlson had been axed by Fox News may as well have been masterminded by his PR firm. On perhaps any other day, the buzz would have been that Lemon’s misogyny finally got the best of him, that indeed he hasn’t the first clue of when women are “in their prime” – whatever that even means. One imagines Caroline Criado Perez celebrated the hullabaloo, as it’s the premise of her international bestseller Invisible Women that at least half the populace has known for centuries: we live “in a culture that conceives of men as the default human and women as a niche aberration.” The reader is presented with scads of data that ought to be ‘sex-disaggregated’ to better understand, treat, and appreciate women, notwithstanding the well-meaning intention behind gender neutrality. “[W]omen’s work – paid & unpaid – is the backbone of our society and our economy,” she writes, calling the failure to prioritize women “economically illiterate.”
Criado Perez builds a case over 323 pages (not including six dozen more of tiny-font endnotes) that the world has been built for and by men in need of broader perspective. With women underrepresented in C-suites, boardrooms, and government ranks, progress occurs at a glacial pace (if at all) because “men back men.” Go figure as studies have repeatedly concluded that increased diversity begets more innovation because – hope you’re sitting down – it means a clearer understanding of the customer base. Anyone in business who’s been paying attention has heard that backing women-founded and -led companies is often the safer bet because women are more likely to score higher on key leadership traits: emotional stability, extraversion, openness to new experiences, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. That women uplift each other is all well and good until you start doing the math: they comprise but 7% of venture capitalists, a mere 8% of S&P 500 CEOs. [Note of interest: The National Bureau of Economic Research concluded last month that female undergrads appear more likely to pursue an econ major at women’s colleges, a revelation that could help diversify the future business leader pipeline.]
The world over, it’s believed that ambitious women who aim to get ahead should just act more like men and yet they’ll be punished for doing exactly that. Take performance reviews. The author confirms, “women receive negative personality criticism that men simply don’t,” noting the former will be called bossy, abrasive, strident, aggressive, emotional, and irrational. If “aggressive” appears in a man’s review, it’s often encouraging him to be more so. And lest you be tempted to tout leaning in and speaking up, “interrupting simply isn’t viewed the same way when women do it.” So-called polite interrupting isn’t effective – so unladylike! – but monitoring rudeness and allotting speaking times is. This works as a counterbalance against the “Sea of Dudes” who think they’re far more intelligent than is this case, getting them to pipe down a bit (if not to stop gunning for promotions for which they’re not qualified). Criado Perez suggests unanimous decision-making as the answer, saying this approach mitigates against male-dominated boardrooms. What, like we thought the fix was gonna be easy?
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