By Matshona Dhliwayo
I was born into a male-dominated family, nurtured in a male-dominated society, and educated in a male-dominated country. Because of this, I realize I’m going to be in a lot of trouble, especially from the matriarchs of the very system I benefited from my entire life. How dare you bite and spit at the very hands that fed you, some might rightly ask? They are, of course, correct. But, something strange happened in my 20s — I grew a conscience.
I could no longer stand by as injustice was not only tolerated, but in many cases, celebrated. For all you women who are frustrated to find that it is difficult, if not impossible, to rise in the corporate world — despite working twice as hard as and, in many cases, performing better than your male counterparts — this article will shine a light on what you either didn’t know or already suspected.
Six reasons why women have stagnated in the corporate world are:
- Since time immemorial, men have always cast themselves as superior to women. My father used to take me to his office each weekend, grooming me from as early as seven to take over when he was gone, while my half-sister who was older than me by about ten years had to stay at home doing chores. For a long time, I thought that was okay. In fact, as I grew older, I even heard respectable women old enough to be my grandmother say, “A woman’s place is in the home.” I believed them, and sadly, so did many other women.
Looking back, I couldn’t help admiring men. What marketing geniuses they were! Through religion, erroneous science, and even the arts, they were able to not only maintain their dominance over their victims, but also, over time, increase it.
This same tyranny has unfortunately been transferred to the corporate world. However subtle, gender prejudice is alive and well, even in some of the most progressive companies.
- If you are a woman from a minority group, it only gets worse. In America, for example, black and Latina women are reportedly mistaken as janitors on a regular basis. And, to add insult to injury, they and other ethnic women often experience the same bigotry from their more fortunate Caucasian sisters. I will never forget the day when a white man made an inappropriate remark about Asian women and the three white women in the room, to my astonishment, laughed, as if he wasn’t indirectly insulting them too.
- It is human nature to want more for yourself, even if it means less for others. There are men who agree that the earning disparity is wrong but won’t lift a finger to help women — not out of discrimination, but simply because more for women would mean less for themselves. For example, in capital markets like Wall Street, even though women often outperform men, they almost always earn less. In an industry where the mantra “greed is good” is a tenet, you are encouraged to do anything it takes to look out for yourself, even if it means turning a blind eye to injustices done to your fellow man.
- Women are silent. The greatest friend of injustice is silence. To be fair, it can be intimidating to speak up. The outcome is not always certain, and if you have mouths to feed, taking such a risk may be daunting. But, that’s exactly what your enemies want. They want you to remain silent because, somewhere deep down inside, even if they deny it, they believe you’re powerful. Harvey Weinstein, a powerful Hollywood producer, had been sexually harassing women for decades, aided by the silence of his victims. It took the courage of a single woman to break the silence and put a final stop to his barbaric ways.
- Men are shallow. Because many men who are at the top are intelligent but not wise, they see women as a burden — not a benefit. A number of prominent CEOs I have spoken to admitted that they themselves or some of their colleagues secretly saw women in “supporting roles” instead of leadership positions. I’ll never forget one CEO who brazenly told me that women who went on maternity leave cost his company a lot of money, as if he himself wasn’t born of a woman. Yes, we have come far, my friends — but still have far to go!
- Inferiority complex. You are not intimidated by what is beneath you, but by what is above you. Unfortunately for many gifted women, there are men who feel inferior or slighted because of the talents that they have or the formidable human beings they are. Believing that women don’t deserve to be better than them, many men are willing to put women down to feel good about themselves. For example, in some countries, there are more women in university than men, but when they graduate, they can’t find jobs. Take Saudi Arabia, for instance, where most human resource managers are men — it is no wonder that, although women there graduate at a higher rate than men, you hardly find them in the workforce.
Certainly, no one can ignore the fact that this is a man’s world, but women deserve a greater chunk of it. And, if they are to achieve this, like every other oppressed group of people that has ever existed, they must unite. Divided, you are weak; united, you are strong. Your oppressors understand this. That is why they work tirelessly to divide you — they are aware it is the most effective way to conquer you.