While attention is often focussed on blatant forms of sexism, its more pernicious counterpart is 'benevolent' sexism. When people are convinced they are helping because they 'know best,' or they've 'had no trouble with female staff so there isn't a problem,' or assume something they've read/heard about a group must apply to all people with that characteristic, lines of dialogue are shut. An article in today's Guardian reports on a new study which quantifies this effect for women leaving the workforce at the mid-career point. The most common reaction amongst managers? This is when women are having children, so they must want a better work-life balance. And yet, if you actually ask women, the most common demand is power, not time. So if you are a manager who wants the best out of your staff, sit down and have that conversation to benefit you and your group/company. Staff who feel wanted are more likely to stay, whatever their external circumstances. And if you are a member of staff, keep pushing to have that conversation - because one day you could be in their place.
In their report published last year,
Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Melinda Marshall found that in order for women
to succeed at work they needed five things: to feel in control of their
career path, to have their work recognised, to find meaning and purpose
in their work, to be able to empower others and to have financial
security. It seems women don’t need work-life balance in order to be
happy, we’ve just assumed they do. Celia Moore, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at London
Business School, suggests that this assumption is a “benevolent
An interesting point made by Hewlett and Marshall is that women
themselves opt out when they believe their current circumstances won’t
change. When they find themselves in a role that doesn’t challenge them
or present them with the opportunity to empower themselves or others
they grow disillusioned. Rather than trying to attain more power, which
would give them the autonomy they want, they choose to leave and try
their luck elsewhere.
Read more here.