To the men who still just don't get it

December 01, 2005|By LESLIE R. STELLMAN

As a male with an androgynous name, I often have been confused, sight unseen, for a woman. This means that when applying in 1968 to the Johns Hopkins University, I was informed that as a female, I was ineligible for admission. Only after I sent in a photo did the admissions people get it right. Four years later, I went on to law school, inspired by a feminist mother who was the first woman to battle her way into a law fraternity in an era when the law was largely a man's world.

Imbued with a passion for gender equality like no other man (other than, perhaps, my father, who was elected "Feminist of the Year" by the Milwaukee chapter of the National Organization for Women), I became an employment attorney and spent the past 30 years educating employers about the evils (not to mention the costs) of sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

So it is with much dismay that I still see too many men in positions of power and authority who, in Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's words after the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, "just don't get it."

Last year, academia was treated to the furor caused by Harvard President Lawrence Summers' clumsy attempt to surmise why too few women excel in mathematics and science.

Recently, The New York Times reported the resignation of Neil French as worldwide creative director of one of the world's largest advertising agencies because of public comments that women "don't make it to the top" in the advertising industry "because they don't deserve to." He said their roles as caregivers and child bearers prevented them from succeeding in top positions.

Men in positions of power still holding antiquated, stereotypical views of women? How can that be? I thought this was the 21st century, but apparently too many men still don't get it. Women have broken through the glass ceiling in so many businesses, yet they still have managed households and raised children.

How else do we explain former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carleton S. Fiorina, former Saturn Corp. President Cynthia Trudell or Martha Stewart? Guys, whether you like it or not, women now hold more than 11 percent of top executive positions in America's Fortune 100 companies, and their ranks are growing. The number of women in law and medical schools in this country exceeds the number of men, and with their enormous purchasing power, women drive our economy.

Female business leaders have made a huge difference in the culture of our largest corporations. They are being actively recruited and rising successfully through the ranks, all the while juggling family, children and career in a manner that would make most men's heads spin.

Because of this growing role in America's businesses, corporate cultures have changed, becoming more "family friendly" and more understanding of the need for executives (men and women) to balance family and work. The invaluable payoff of this change of attitude is more functional families and children with committed parents.

So the next time, gentlemen, if you're tempted to make a stereotypical remark about women or still think of them as caregivers and child bearers with little aptitude for corporate management, math, science, medicine, law or business, think again and keep your mouth shut. It's not about being "politically correct." It's about being dead wrong and out of step with today's reality.

Leslie R. Stellman, who represents companies on employment issues, is an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Johns Hopkins University School of Professional Studies in Business and Education. His e-mail is stellman@hupk.com.

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