Prevent Gender Discrimination
Treat Men and Women the Same
(With a Few Very Minor Exceptions)
Try not to differentiate in any way between men and women in the workplace. Besides referring to a male as “he” or “Mr.” and a female as “she” or “Ms.” (or, if she prefers, “Miss” or “Mrs.”), and besides providing separate restrooms for men and women and allowing men and women to dress differently, try to pretend that all your workers are of the same gender: the “worker” gender. The law says you should treat women and men the same in the workplace unless the woman is pregnant and close to giving birth or has just given birth, in which case she has some rights that men don’t have (see “Pregnancy, Adoption, and Maternity Leave,” page ???? below), or if there is a job that can only be performed by one gender. For example, if you need someone to model women’s clothes, you can restrict your hiring to women for that position. That is called a “bona fide occupational qualification,” or “BFOQ.” Use gender-neutral language in oral and written communication. Don’t call women over the age of 18 “girls.”
The announcement in January 2013 by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that women will now be permitted to serve in combat will, I think, do more to achieve equality for women (equality with men) in the workplace, not just the battlefield, than any other event in U.S. history. With very, very few exceptions, there is no reason to treat women differently than men.
This advice to treat men and women the same might upset some people. After years of trying—successfully—to prove that men and women have equal abilities (except perhaps that the average man has a little more upper-body strength than the average woman has), some people (some women and some men) are now saying that women think, communicate, and manage employees differently than men do.
Employers should ignore such talk. For thousands of years, one major cause of discrimination against women was the belief that women think differently than men. That belief resulted in women earning less than men and being subordinate to men in many types of employment. In the 1970s and ’80s, women rejected that belief. As a result, women made great strides toward achieving full equality with men in the workplace. Today, however, that belief is back in vogue in some circles.
Keep in mind that that belief—the belief that women think, communicate, and manage employees differently than men do—is held and expressed mainly by authors, lecturers, and college professors, not managers. Managers should not hold or express that belief. Managers who express that belief or base their managerial decisions on that belief risk being sued for sex discrimination.
If you are a manager, you should ignore all statements and literature that argue that women think, communicate, or manage differently than men do. Such arguments are generalizations that ignore the fact that not all men are the same and not all women are the same. Moreover, these generalizations are usually based on immeasurable characteristics and anecdotal observations. These generalizations are nothing new. They are as old as time. They have historically hurt women more than helped women in the quest for equality. Examples of such generalizations are: “Women use their instincts and emotional intelligence more than men do. Men just use logic.” “Women prefer working in groups; men prefer working alone.” “Women are less assertive than men.” “Women are more nurturing than men.” “Women are better communicators than men are.” “Men are better negotiators than women are.” “Men don’t ask directions.” “Men don’t cry.” “Men’s brains are ‘hard-wired,’ which makes them less comfortable expressing their emotions.” “Men can only think about one thing at a time; women can think about many things at a time.” “Women think ‘outside the box’ better than men do.”
The people who make such statements mean well. They are trying to empower women. But in fact they are doing the opposite: they are perpetuating old stereotypes about women, such as the stereotype that men use logic more than instinct while women use instinct more than logic. Remember the old stereotype of a woman complaining to her husband, “I hate it when you’re logical”? These people are claiming that that is true: men are too logical. “Men should use less logic and more feelings and intuition, like women do,” these people say. Such statements lead to legal trouble. If a male manager were to say “Men think logically more than women do,” he would be accused of “degrading” and “devaluing” women. He might get sued for sex discrimination. He would be a dead duck in court.
You should treat men and women the same and not talk about gender differences at all. In fact, you should assume (except perhaps in some very rare circumstances) that in terms of job performance, there are no gender differences.
Women managers who talk about how women are better at one thing or another than men are (such as having better “intuition,” “listening skills,” or “communication skills” than men have) risk being sued for sex discrimination by male subordinates and rejected male job applicants. They might even be sued for creating a “hostile work environment” toward men. Women should avoid such talk. Such talk will cause men to file sex discrimination lawsuits.
Men and Women Are Both from Earth
Managers should reject all generalizations that men are this and women are that. Such generalizations are no different than generalizations claiming that white people are this and black people are that. Such generalizations only lead to trouble. Such generalizations come dangerously close to saying, “Women are better than men” or “Men are smarter than women.” That is no different from saying, “Blacks are better than whites” or “Whites are smarter than blacks” or some other rash, racist, sexist generalization. It is dangerous stuff. As Carol Gilligan warned in her famous book on male-female psychological differences, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, “it is difficult to say ‘different’ without saying ‘better’ or ‘worse.’”
You should not assume anything about a person’s thinking just because of his or her gender, race, color, national origin, age, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. Many blacks are smarter than many whites, many whites are smarter than many blacks, many men are smarter than many women, and many women are smarter than many men. That is all we know. That does not tell us anything about a particular black person, white person, male, or female. Don’t lump people together just because they are the same gender, race, color, national origin, age, ability/disability, religion, or sexual orientation. Regard each person as an individual who may be very different from other people of his or her gender, race, color, national origin, age, ability/disability, religion, or sexual orientation.