If you follow me on Twitter you may have spotted that I”ve been on a bit of a soap box lately about caring and work. I am increasingly getting fed up with the notion that to be truly successful you have to be ruthless and by implication suppress your caring nature or not have one in the first place.
Money has become such a big indicator of success, disproportionately so; even in my lifetime (I’m 56) I’ve seen that change. Of course, how much people earn has always been a significant indicator but worth and value was also accorded to other professions where pay was not paramount, like teaching and health professionals. (And in full disclosure, I’m a qualified social worker, a carer, and worked in NHS for many years so, yes, I’m biased). I’m not going to get into an argument about the how and why that changed but look to the 1980s for your answer. And I’m not looking to the past with rose tinted spectacles; I don’t want to live in the 1950s despite the current trend in all things retro. There’s no way I’d want to be a grown up woman in that era!
Women and Money
This emphasis on money has had a knock on effect on women in particular. As we have valued less and less anything that doesn’t generate ‘loads of money’ the caring aspects of life have systematically been devalued too. This article from Deborah Orr in The Guardian puts it very well, although it makes for grim reading. Ufortunately if you work within the field of caring, are a parent needing child care, or are a carer and need help and support you are faced with this reality every day.
Men Suffer Too
In my consulting capacity I also work with men who suffer from the ‘aggression is good’ assumption. Men who are openly kind and caring are generally seen as less appropriate senior management material than those who are more aggressive. Like many women they also fall foul of the very macho male values in some workplaces. I’ve written on this before, but the world of business was designed by men when only men were in the workplace. Men, naturally enough, designed it to reflect that. Many business values and mores by and large reflect very male attributes, what Professor Simon Baron Cohen might call ‘the extreme male brain’. (See Is Being Nice Bad for You?).
If this style of behaviour doesn’t come naturally to you you are always at a disadvantage. Hence women trying to behave like men, (remember shoulder pads and pin striped suits anyone?) and ‘soft’ men being derided too. As I reflect on the many management courses I attended I realise that most of them were based on the male perspective, for example, when I first did assertiveness training it was of the ‘I win, you’ll lose’ variety, very adversarial (the eighties again). We were being given a very clear message about what was valued.
Would Gender Equality Mean a More Caring Society?
We know that when boards and companies employ significantly more numbers of women i.e. not a token one, everyone benefits. Yes, the bottom line goes up, but also working practices and styles change which benefit men and women. I frequently work one to one with women who are considering stepping off the career ladder because they feel uncomfortable with the way business operates, many to set up their own businesses. (I also work with women who work for companies very different from the ones I am describing, who love their work and don’t feel excluded or ostracised. For them the issues are much more general and relate to their own career development.)
Society needs people who professionally care for others; the fact that this is mainly women should not be allowed to downgrade its value. That’s bad for all of us, whatever gender. We need a more gender equal society, we need more women in Government, we need a real debate about what matters to us. We need to make some changes.
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