Thursday, June 7, 2012

I'm Not Your Wife--And a Good Thing, Too!

Here's an interesting article from the Atlantic, which raises a topic that seems to be getting some traction within employment discrimination litigation-the idea of unconscious, unintentional, discrimination, especially against women, as a result of culture, upbringing, etc. In this article, the thesis is that husbands embedded in traditional and neo-traditional marriages, compared to husbands in so-called modern marriages, exhibit attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that undermine the role of women in the workplace. Modern marriages are considered those where the wives are employed full-time and traditional / neo-traditional marriages are those in which the wives are unemployed.

Essentially, the authors of a study on which the article is based argue that men in traditional marriages unconsciously treat the women working around them as if they were their wives, seeking to protect them from risks and stress, and at the same time devaluing their ambition and ability to contribute to an organization.

There are couple of problems with this assertion, which, for all I know, is true. The first is that the same can be said equally of married women, I presume--that they view men in the workplace through the prism of their marital experience with their husbands. I don't know whether this has a positive or a negative effect, except to say that most married men would pity the poor buggers who were treated at work the same way their wives treated them at home.

Okay, I'm just kidding on that last sentence.  Really, just kidding.

The second point is more significant-I'm not sure we should care about what people think in their hearts or their heads, as long as it doesn't translate into measurable discriminatory conduct. Presumably, it is impossible to eradicate every single preconceived notion from our minds about our fellow human beings.  I'm not sure we want to anyway, and in many cases it can be a useful survival mechanism.  The best we can do is to try to deal with any manifested, improper behavior resulting from this preconception.  In other words, as a boss I don't care if your view of women in the workplace derives from The Clan of the Cave Bear; if you're treating them evenhandedly and as individuals (the same way you should treat your male coworkers), then what does it matter?  Thought crimes went out with 1984, at least in my opinion.

In any event, this is worth a read just to get us thinking about workplace attitudes, and their sources, and how or whether we ought to deal with them.

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