Dating in the Workplace
Cell Phone Use at Work: Where’s the Line?

How Should Women Be Treated in the Workplace

Blog by Pepperdine University student Beth

This week I will post five blogs from students at Pepperdine University. Professor Carolyn Galantine assigned students to choose a blog and post comments. I appreciate students' inclusion of my blog in their responses. This is blog #3.

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not an expert on women’s issues, nor am I an expert in business management. I haven’t written any books, and I haven’t been asked to appear as an expert in any capacity. I am just your average woman. I have led men and women and have been led by men and women. I’ve spent the majority of my professional life in the Navy as a pilot. While women are certainly more prevalent as military pilots these days, they are still relatively rare. As a female pilot, I felt the need to prove myself. It may have all just been in my head, maybe people already thought I deserved to be there, but I didn’t feel that way. I wanted the respect of my peers, my subordinates, and my bosses. I knew that my performance would influence the respect I received, but I also knew how I was graded and treated would influence it. If I was held to the exact same standards as the male pilots and I succeeded, there would be no question I could do the job well.

I learned a big lesson during my first phase of training. During the periodic physical testing in Officer Candidate School (OCS), to get a good score, women could do fewer pushups and run slower than the male candidates. To get the same score, a male would have to run 1.5 miles much faster than a female would. The drill instructors would praise the women and yell at the men because our scores were higher. In contrast, our group runs every morning were done in formation, and frequently a female would drop out because she couldn’t keep up. Females scored high officially, but in reality they didn’t perform as well. This irritated the men in our class. The different standards made the women seem as if we were getting special treatment. There were accommodations made for women and as a result there was hostility from the men. The cohesion within our class dropped because of this. There were “sides”. My concern was, did the men respect us? Were our achievements perceived as “less than”?

The blog post above seems to treat women as managers with kid gloves. It states that it is the employee’s job to empathize with the female manager. To understand why the female behaves how she does, to understand her anxiety, to soothe her bruised ego, and cradle her fragile ego.  The employee is supposed to find ways to praise the boss, show her she’s in control, and slow down information flow if the female boss isn’t organized and can’t handle multi-tasking. In short, the advice for dealing with a female boss is to have all employees treat her as a delicate little flower rather than an accomplished leader.

Telling people to treat women differently than men is gender discrimination, currently an ethical issue getting a lot of attention these days. Usually when I think of gender discrimination I think of things such as less pay for equal work, women not being promoted when they deserve to be, or sexual harassment; but isn’t the above post a form of gender discrimination as well? Why is the post not titled, “Figuring out the Boss” rather than “Figuring out the Female Boss”? Why is all the advice aimed at dealing with “her” and “she”? Are the authors advocating for treating women differently? That by their very nature women need to be coddled at work? How is that different than calling a woman “sweetie” or assuming a woman can’t perform her job without help simply because she is a woman? These last statements are easily recognizable as discrimination. Maybe the post is harder to identify as discrimination because it was written by two female doctors, but I believe it is still discrimination. After all, would everyone be ok with telling women employees to stroke the ego of an incompetent male boss to make him feel more powerful?

Women bosses can be good or bad, just like male bosses can be good or bad.  The bad ones should be counseled or fired. The good ones promoted and rewarded. It doesn’t matter what the sex of the manager is. The important thing is to treat them the same. Gender equality

Throughout flight school, I didn’t require special treatment. All the requirements were the same for everybody. I didn’t fail flights and I didn’t fail tests. In fact, I always was at the top of my class. Consequently, nobody questioned whether I deserved to be there. I earned the respect and authority I had.

Treating men and women differently is ethically wrong. It’s wrong on the surface purely because you can’t assume people will perform differently based on their gender. But the bigger motivation, I believe, is to have nobody question the competency of women. Somehow in the past women were falsely labeled as being not as smart and not as capable. This was wrong, and society is now trying to fix it. The rules can fix things on the surface (just like the physical requirement scores in OCS showed women scored better than the men), but what actually needs to change is the mindset of people (fellow pilots believing I earned my  position). If I had required special treatment, the respect shown to me would just be a façade. To truly lead, the woman must be up to the task, the same as a man would have to be. Breaking stereotypes is not easy and forcing special treatment does not help the issue. Additionally, in this case, the special treatment of female manages that is recommended is the exact discrimination that should be prevented. The solution is not to treat women differently and require less of them. The solution is to expect her to perform to the standards of all managers and leaders and let her change the minds of those around her by her performance.

Gender discrimination has a long history in this country. It takes on so many forms people don’t even realize it’s happening. Women will never truly gain the respect they deserve if they aren’t treated the same as men. There are plenty of quality women out there, women who can lead others, who don’t need special treatment. The best way to get people to change their minds about the capabilities of women is to show them. Have women managers and leaders out-performing everyone else (or at least not needing special treatment).  There’s no question that sexual discrimination is ethically wrong, the debatable part is how to fix it. The answer is by promoting capable women and refraining from all forms of discrimination. Even advice designed to help women by treating them differently is included in the undesired discrimination.

I’ll leave you with something to ponder. What if the original post had been written by a man? What if I told you this article was written in 1959.  Would you find it condescending? Would you be offended then? How does the origin of the article change your viewpoint of it?

Student blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 28, 2018. Visit Steve's website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and Like his page.