How Do You Feel About Gender-Based Recognition?

I‘m writing this on International Women’s Day. I’ve received recognition and thanks from lovely people. I have thanked them. And yet, I have very mixed feelings about recognition based solely on gender.

I’ve had a career full of ups and downs, and yes, I’ve felt gender-based discrimination and harassment. I’ve fought for pay parity. I’ve fought back against harassment.

As a manager, I drew a sharp line about acceptable behaviors. I didn’t tolerate anything that wasn’t respectful—for women and for men. (I wrote a series about respect in the workplace on my other blog. See Families vs Organizations and Organizational Culture, Part 6.)

I’ve long said that work equality begins with babies. When we raise small humans to treat everyone with respect, we create a better world.

If people need to judge my work, I would rather that they judge it on its merits, not the fact that a woman created it. I don’t want people to judge my books because a woman wrote them. I want them to decide if the information helps them. Same with my blogs, speaking, coaching, consulting.

We’ll know we’ve achieved gender parity when people stop talking about “first woman to…” or “best female something-or-other.”

A funny anecdote: I test well. Back when I took the SATs, they were easy to game if you liked logic and had a large-ish vocabulary. I had both. I did well on the SATs. On hearing my scores, a neighbor’s son, who was two years older sniffed, and said, “That’s really good for a girl.”

My scores were really good for anyone. And, that’s my point.

That’s why I have such mixed feelings about International Women’s Day. I want to celebrate accomplishments—from anyone. I want people to realize that the more we treat everyone with respect, the more everyone wins.

My more prosaic wants:

  • Pay parity. If you’ve earned a specific role in the organization because of your accomplishments, I want to see you paid suitably. Regardless of whether you are a woman or a man. Too few people speak for themselves and negotiate for reasonable compensation.
  • Diverse teams. We know and have data that women, people with diverse experiences, and people from diverse cultures enhance our ability to create great products. We now have data that teams of white men are quite bad at machine vision applications where the app needs to recognize women and other-than-white skin colors.
  • A culture of respect. I want organizations to stop rewarding zero-sum behavior in managers, in teams, and among people. I want organizations to elevate the culture. Civility is part of that, but not all. It’s about what the organization rewards.

I still have mixed feelings about International Women’s Day. I’m not opposed to it. I suspect that I’ll be happier when we don’t need it. We won’t need it when we build a culture of respect for all humans. Not just at work, but in all facets of our lives.

My wish for you today: Don’t just acknowledge the women in your life today. Ask yourself how you can treat everyone with respect every day. Maybe then we won’t need International Women’s Day.

The question this week is: How do you feel about gender-based recognition?

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