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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Six Reasons Why Men Don't Hire Women
and what you can do about it

I had barely started my cup of cocoa when I overheard the men next to me.

"I just don't hire women anymore other than as assistants," one said, "because I don't want the headaches."

In 1973, newspaper help wanted ads were routinely divided by sex, with clerical and service jobs for women, and high-paying industrial and management jobs in the MEN column. How can it be that in 2005 a woman can still not be hired based on her gender rather than her performance?

Here are some six myths that stop men from hiring women.

Myth One: I'll have to take care of them.

Companies are looking for people who can take care of business by adding to the profits or cutting the costs. They do not want their employees to cost them. The fact is that even women with little work experience are more used to taking care of others than being taken care of. In order to run operations of their household, they must have exposure to time, money, risk, legal and property management, emergency, health, education maintenance, and special occasion, vacation, and quality of life planning. About half of all women work outside of the home, and in 22% of working couples, the woman earns more than than man, making her the breadwinner who is taking care of everyone financially as well.

Myth Two: I'll have to watch what I say and do.

Tolerance is a two way street. As much as men feel they cannot be themselves at work anymore, women have felt they needed to act like men in order to be accepted. The environment becomes sterile, civilized, and politically correct to the point that there is no enjoyment. Work environments are often competitive, and inadvertently, someone is bound to become offended, even if the offense isn't intentional. Many women can banter as offensively as men. Most issues can be avoided up front by setting expectations with employees up front. Not allowing inappropriate language to become the norm inside the office is important so that the habit doesn't slip outside the office and reflect badly upon the organization. Maybe your company should take a look at how women have been rewarded for working with you. If employees are being treated fairly in respect to pay, benefits, and other forms of compensation and recognition for performance, they will like working for you and it will be difficult for them to reasonably argue they're being harmed, or that they'll desire to harm you.

Myth Three: She won't put in the time on task.

Companies want maximum productivity from their employees. This myth arises from the idea that women don't prioritize business first or that women are more distracted with personal issues. Here the competant woman is fighting the man's image of a scattered and uncommited, young, single girl or a married woman, possibly with kids who come first. Statistically, young single women are performing on par with young, single men and they are earning about the same amount. By age 40, 90% of women have at least one child. The majority, about 64%, of top executive women have kids and they still perform. About 38% of married moms also work full time. Being married or having kids apparently motivates these working women to get work and keep working or they would stay home. The only real statistical correlation is that for each child a man has he earns more, while for each child a woman has, her pay level decreases. Also, about 22% of working women are over age 55 and could put in the time on task you are looking for if you hired them.

Myth Four: It's easier to find the right man for the job.

Companies want people with the right work history and results. It's true, there is often a larger pool of experienced men to draw from because more men than women are in the funnel in the first place. With the exception of businesses by women, for women, most industries are dominated by men. Still, who you are attracting to fill positions may have more to do with how you recruit your employees than who is available to do the work. Everyone knows that most hiring is done through personal contacts. Most old boys networks don't have a lot of women in them, so they aren't recommending women they know. The key is to tap into organizations that draw professional women to them so that you have pick of the experienced female candidates who have a proven track record. Once contacts are established it's easy to find qualified women, too.

Myth Five: Women will take things personally and attack me personally.

Companies want to keep employees focused on economic goals. Management doesn't want to be accused of being mean, unfair or unkind if things aren't exactly the way employees would like them to be. The truth is, it is very difficult to make balanced decisions all of the time. Men can be just as verbally ferocious as women and possibly even more threatening when a policy is ineffective. Managers have to get good at building setting correct expectations, benchmarking performance, and gap analysis of individual skills in order to effectively draw out the best qualities in any employee. Take a look at how well you do this first, and if the problem then clearly rests with the individual decide how to help them improve or get rid of them. If you're worried about women hurting you, remember, it's just business, so don't take it personally.

Myth Six: Women care more about being happy than making money.

Companies want sales people who will chase the close, and to do that the salesperson has to be motivated by money. Here the myth is that women don't want or need the money, but that perception is incorrect. They just often don't just want it in a visibly greedy or self-focused way. Acting in self-interest is a great economic theory that doesn't apply to the generosity required in a family. Women, especially women raising children or doing elder care, don't directly claim the products of their own labor. The incentive to gain wealth and power isn't self motivated because she'll never gain all the benefits for the costs invested or sacrificed. When applied to work, the problem lies with the man who frames everything in economic terms rather than the profitability added from value added services such as customer satisfaction, repeat business, less turnover from people satisfaction, all of which make money and cut costs, but are more difficult to measure. Bottom line results can come effectively from women or men depending upon the managements ability to learn to tap into individual motivations and loyalties.

How do myths like this perpetuate themselves? They are kept alive by what scientists call belief perseverance. Basically, people just can't stand to be wrong.

By wanting to be right about not hiring women, these men will rationalize it, selectively support it by choosing to relate only those experiences that validate it, and give extra weight to information that conforms until the prophecy is self-fulfilled. By seeking others and clinging to other co-workers with negative associations and spoken generalities, these men continue their own illusion that they can predict the behavior of all women in business, rather than seeking out and filling the funnel with good candidates that can effectively deliver results for their business.

Bias is something we are all guilty of. It is not a bias to make assumptions based on real evidence. Unfortunately, when the men at the coffee shop said they wouldn't consider women, it's more likely that they are simply afraid because they don't have enough real information, so they feel safer sticking to the familiar kinship they have gotten from male colleagues and remain inflexible to the benefits of hiring women.

When we hold a bias, we act on our attitudes out of fear, and in trying to protect ourselves miss out on wonderful opportunities that in business can result in superior economic rewards. The firmer we are in our own sense of identity, the greater we understand the worth of diverse energies, skills and perspectives.

Most men that say things that might offend women have a passive or innocent bias founded on a naive premise or a handful of unfortunate experiences with a particular individual. Men who have positive experiences working with women are no longer threatened by their values, ideas, and fresh ways of doing things. The only way that men can see successful women is to hire more women, promote, and support their career goals so that they are exposed to positive examples that in turn, open the door for others.

It is up to individual women to encourage the men to educate themselves in a caring and non-dismissive manner. That's why the guy's next round of coffee was on me that day.


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