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I can barely breathe for all of the gender asbestos!

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox writes in the Harvard Business Review this week about “Gender Asbestos.” In the article, she asks the question, “Why are companies failing to retain women and promote them to positions of leadership?” And she says that focusing on gender pay parity is not productive.

Why? Because 26% of wives outearn their husbands, and 6 out of 10 people who get BAs and MAs are women. I might add, “A BA outearning her husband at a minimum wage job? SO WHAT?” I disagree. We need to focus on gender pay parity because this is part of what is holding women back worldwide.

Ms. Wittenberg-Cox says, “The real issue isn’t salaries. That is a symptom of a deeper issue: a massive corporate mis-adaptation to today’s talent realities and the subsequent inability to retain and develop women as well as men. I call this “gender asbestos.” It’s hidden in the walls, cultures and mindsets of many organizations. But ridding the structure of the toxins will require more than pointing accusingly at the mess. It requires a detailed plan for how to move forward — and a compelling, attractive portrait of the result.”

Okay, first of all, what are you really saying here? Get past the verbiage of “a massive corporate misadaptation to today’s talent realities.” Are you saying that we need a flexible workday, jobsharing, a real 30 hour workweek, not a 60 or 80 one? Calling this Gender Asbestos muddies the issue.

What we’re really talking about here is systemic misogyny.

Why apoliticize the discussion?

We need to bring to light the reasons for systemic and individual misogyny and work to change them. We need to look at rankism, the preference for masculine leadership, and recruitment and retention strategies, and more flexible workdays, in addition to gender wage parity. Don’t downplay this important aspect of women’s equality.

Why aren’t there more women in leadership? The answer that Harvard Business Review gives? Oh, it’s that they can’t make sacrifices! WRONG! Too often “women aren’t willing to make sacrifices” is the phraseology corporations and nonprofits hide behind when asked this question. Which is another way of saying, “Women have ovaries, will have kids, and can’t hack working a 60 hour week,” which is misogyny plain and simple.

It also suggests that men ARE making a sacrifice, which is where it really falls down. It’s not like men are working for the corporation and never taking sabbaticals. It’s like saying, “a black man can’t do this job, he’ll be ^insert stereotype^ here.” It’s a non-sequiteur gender based discrimination. We need to stop sloppy misogynistic thinking where it starts.

Ms. Wittenberg-Cox goes on: “Stop asking “What’s wrong with women that they’re not making it to the top?” Start asking “What’s wrong with companies if they can’t retain and promote the majority of educated Americans, and can’t adequately satisfy the majority of US consumers?” Only the right questions can yield effective answers.”

I couldn’t agree more. We need to be asking better questions. But apoliticizing a discussion will be yet another excuse for business as usual. Let’s call this what it is. Institutional misogyny. Her solution in her book, “How Women Mean Business” is “Audit, Awareness, Alignment, Sustain”

My solution? We need a better structure than that. We need unions in corporations to help women get parity in all areas.

What do you think?

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