Mother Nature

In the last few days were two articles in the New York Times about the still remarkably low number of women at the top. In both was an element of surprise – as if by now women leaders should no longer be so few and far between.

The first was titled, “Women Dominate at Law School, but Not at Law Firms.”* It painted a “bleak picture for gender equity among leadership roles,” pointing out that though women now constitute more than half of current law school graduates, their share of equity partnerships remains at 20 percent. Moreover, in recent years this number has not ticked up one whit.

The second article, long and prominently featured, was titled, “Why Women Aren’t C.E.O.s.”** It focused on women who came close to the top, but then for various reasons “didn’t quite make it.” The sample here was select: women who were singularly successful but who never reached the highest rung. Which raises the question of why?

As usual, men got most of the blame. Not all of it. Some women, it was reported in the second piece, “are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive.” And many women – more than half of those who earn M.B.A.s – drop out of the full-time work force within a decade. Still, in the main the problem was said to be men. “Men remain threatened by assertive women.” And men get “extremely jealous.” And men think, “If I kick her, she’s not going to kick back.” And men create a climate in which the bias against women, while subtle, is “more pernicious than blatant discrimination.”

It’s amazing to me how after all these years, two to three decades at least, of wondering why the overwhelming majority of leaders remain men not women, the answers are still so conventional, so mind-numbingly repetitive. Mind you, this does not make them untrue. Men do, for example, remain threatened by assertive women – as I can attest! But to treat this issue as fundamentally psychological or sociological or organizational or structural or personal or interpersonal or behavioral is to miss the point entirely. The roots of this problem go all the way down, to the deepest level of what it means to be human. Of what it means to be a human animal – a mammal – which for most of human history meant males go out to hunt for food while females hang back to tend to their young.

To understand the role of sociobiology in the problem of women and leadership is not to say it is insoluble. But, it is to attack the problem from a different angle entirely.






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