Year End Review 2017: Professional Women and the Culture War

Nicki Gilmour - Founder of The Glasshammer.comBy Nicki Gilmour, CEO and Publisher of

Every year in December I write about the runners and the riders, the losses and the gains for women in corporations. The usual statistical update of no movement in female leaders in aggregate can be seen by checking out the report compiled by McKinsey and Lean in called Women in the Workplace 2017.  More calls for increased hiring of female talent in the beginning of their careers to create parity at the top. Culture change, not just binders full of women is the key, as we know spreadsheets alone cannot fix this issue. Yes, there is much work to be done structurally with hiring bias, pay inequality for apples to apples jobs and flawed promotional processes, but we are missing the point; people leave jobs when their sense of purpose is brought into question. Sometimes it is related to money and recognition for the job done. Sometimes it is about competing agendas for men and women to fit life in and having babies is often cited as the issue that prevents women from succeeding. Yet, rarely are the power structures around who gets to keep their professional lives somewhat intact, supported and without question ever talked about.

Neuroscience and the psychology of advancing men

Our cognitive processes and confirmation biases make us assume that it is a given that men should advance at work and in life. Regardless of what men actually want or are actually capable of and the perception of white men knowing more persists through good times and bad times. Sallie Krawcheck wrote an excellent piece last week in the NY Times, in which she encapsulates the whole issue of how we devalue women. She was a leader at the world’s biggest finance shop but still had the guy in front of her, mansplain her business model to her. She commented in the article,

“I was astonished, because I have managed more financial advisers in my career than probably anyone in the country. I realized in that moment how deep our gender views run, how men are still seen as leaders and women as more junior.”

We are a long way off equality and the power of perception has a role to play, as many men and some women believe that things are close to equal, even in firms where the number of female senior executives is 1 in 10. Perception works both ways, it keeps us in and it makes us leave if we see no pathway forward.

Our brain creates inference and assigns values that we don’t even know about that then writes narratives making us think we know the outcome based on past experience and current norms. This surfaces as conscious and unconscious beliefs about the world and how it should work.

Why do women and specifically white straight women have a complicated history of complicity and collusion around men who are deeply flawed or incompetent? Internalized misogyny and white privilege and betting on what has always been is the underpinning element. Even if you think you are a progressive person, liberal and modern, I hear cultural programming mixed with personal experience that 99.9% of the time makes you accept biased structures as the benchmark. The “think manager, think male” research shows that most women consistently rank men as a group higher than women for preferential traits such as competency and productivity. We all have deep programming and cognitive dissonance. Even if we are not stereotyping in our language and individual actions, most people overlook the systemic influences that create our overall environment. That silent invisible operating system called the patriarchy dictates the entire scope of possibilities and weighted value of your actions. What gets preference? Much like your phone, you cannot see the mechanics of how things are ordered and valued for memory and battery unless you look very closely, but instead can only choose the app that can personally help you in the moment. Until we address the fact that the system has weighted preferences on outcomes, we will see surface choices only.

Sure, there has been a deep perturbation in the fabric of the status quo this year from the Women’s March in January to this month’s cover of Time magazine announcing the silence breakers as the person (now people) of the year. There are so many conversations going on now that just didn’t happen outside academia even a year ago. Themes are being explored editorially and widely that were only for the most studied this time last year. Topics like collusion, such as the unpacking of the Harvey Weinstein power play are written about daily now. But, the battle and the war is far from won and this moment in time is one we can spiral up or down from. The relief of surfacing of 2017’s #metoo is only the relief that we can speak about such things openly. Exposing that the system is weighed against certain people based on their social identity (gender, ethnicity etc) and the power given to a person depending on their biological sex and place therefore in society is not the same as addressing systemic inequities. Certainly, the Supreme court itself has distance to go since American women are not equal under law (Equal Rights Amendment is not ratified) and LGBT people are categorized first and foremost behaviorally and not legally recognized intrinsically as people.

What do we need to do?

Care enough to form full and informed thoughts and be heard on the topic. Good men are doing good things and walking the talk such as Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman who voiced his shock at the World Economic Forum’s report when it was revealed that it will take over 200 years to get parity. Men have to understand that this is not a women’s issue. While people are talking up and talking down feminism, maybe we should be speaking about redefining masculinity. This TED talk by Justin Baldoni called “Why I am done being Man enough” is inspiring for all to watch.

Cordelia Fine has written an award winning book called “Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds” that is my holiday recommended reading to you as it debunks the myths of Men are from Mars and other purported differences that stop us from solving the issues. We have to stop believing the faux science that divides us or falsely categorizes us as it actually contributes to a system of yore.  Unless we talk about what masculinity is, the good , the bad and the ugly of it shaped from the ancient Greeks to now, we cannot get to a better version. We cannot get to understand what it means to be a woman in society if we do not examine what it also means to be a man. What are boys and men messaged? What does peer pressure do and Tony Porter talks about the problem of the “man card” in his excellent TED talk. He states, ‘My liberation of a man is tied to your liberation as a woman’. Culture not just biology, is what we need to look at and understand that keeping to a binary instead of understanding spectrums of human nature is not helpful.  There are men and women ready to engage in this conversation and I am ready to have a more advanced conversation in 2018 with everyone and we are well placed to begin!

Seasons Greetings from us here at and check out our coaching website: as the change starts with you!