Is there a war of the sexes? It depends on who you ask

Women still feel excluded from the “old boys club” — men say it’s no longer a problem

The battle of the sexes continues with recent studies showing men and women are miles apart when it comes to equality in the workplace.

“This is not war to the death, but there are definitely differences of opinions,” said Conrad Winn, president of Compas Inc., an opinion and market research company.

A Financial Post CEO poll, conducted by Compas, reveals a split in opinion along gender lines when it comes to issues of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.

Only 26 per cent of men felt that women held lower-ranked jobs because of discrimination as compared to 59 per cent of women polled who felt this way.

Winn said the battle lines are clearly drawn in the area of workplace harassment. More female respondents (57 per cent) than male (37 per cent) believe men get away with sexual comments and it’s excused as office banter. Around 45 per cent of women say male workers are able to get away with sexual exploitation as well. In contrast, only 23 per cent of men believe this to be true.

Women are saying workplace discrimination happens in some places, some of the time and men are saying it hardly happens at all, Winn said. Since women are the ones who seem more threatened by the circumstances, they’re more likely to share information with each other. If men don’t feel threatened or exploited, they’re not likely to discuss the issue.

Susan Black, vice-president of Catalyst — a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women in business — said the recent findings from Compas are not surprising.

“In general, it certainly agrees with the research we do regarding women’s progress and their experiences,” Black said. “One of the big findings was male stereotyping. You come to the workplace and you look at it through your own lens. A lot of men simply aren’t sensitized to how women experience the workplace and the things that go on.”

In a survey of American women in financial services, conducted by Catalyst, almost one in three said they experienced sexual harassment directly or worked in a sexually harassing environment while only 13 per cent of men cited this.

“Often these kinds of perception gaps are the result of assumptions that people have in the workplace that go unquestioned and unchallenged. There isn’t this kind of conspiracy to discriminate against women,” said Black. “People act on their own biases and that’s where you get the systemic things that are showing up in the surveys.”

These systemic barriers also appear in the Moving Forward 2002 report, commissioned by the Women’s Executive Network (WEN) in Canada. The majority of women executives surveyed said they have to work twice as hard as men to achieve success, they continuously find themselves hitting the “glass ceiling,” and they are not accepted into the executive-level culture, that includes participation in “the boys club” and “the meeting after the meeting.”

“Research has shown that women spend a great deal of time developing their style to fit into that male-dominated environment,” said Angela Marzolini, vice-chair of Pollara, a research firm that conducted the survey for WEN. “Having to learn these rules, adopt a style that their male colleagues can be comfortable with...it’s so difficult. Even when they do, many are telling us there is less opportunity for advancement as compared to their male colleagues.”

About four in 10 respondents said they continue to face more barriers to career advancement than a man with the same qualifications, and feel they are presented with fewer opportunities.

“These barriers are far more subtle than the barriers women have faced in the past. I would argue these are more difficult to address...and it’s going to take a long time to disappear if they ever do,” Marzolini said.

Out of the top 15 list of barriers to career advancement, women said the “the lack of comfort on the part of men in dealing with women on a professional level,” was the number one concern for 69 per cent of the respondents. “The ‘meeting after the meeting’: golf, hockey, cigars, drinks,” was one concern stated by a respondent. Another participant said, “Men prefer to deal with men rather than women, so there’s no opportunity to establish credibility.”

Gender-based stereotyping was also on the list. Surveyors noted some common problems like, “men who still think women need help,” and “male chauvinism.”

In addition, most executive women polled believe they are paid less than men with similar qualifications, more than one-third feel they receive less credit and recognition for accomplishments and one in five said their views are less likely to be heard and valued.

About 36 per cent said their employers are making a strong or moderate effort to assist in eliminating barriers, 21 per cent said their employers are making a weak effort and seven per cent said no effort is being made at all.

“There are all sorts of things employers can do to help women advance. Most times employers don’t know there is a problem or know if they should be doing anything,” Marzolini said.

Employers can start with an assessment of the workplace to understand barriers women face, she said. Once this is understood, they can implement formal and objective hiring and promotions procedures and mentoring programs.

It’s very important for women to get help in developing networks and contacts, Marzolini said. Informal networking opportunities that are gender neutral should be encouraged.

“Most women do not play golf, so many executive women are learning and are at the beginner level, but should you have to play golf to get ahead in an organization?”

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