I didn’t intend to be a misogynist, I didn’t even know I was one until I opened my eyes and looked at what was happening to someone I cared for, then I realized my ignorance and my complicity. Aside from intentional misogynists most of this country runs on an unconscious bias toward white, straight, rich men. There is no real “reverse discrimination” as some would claim. And if you’ve never been on the other side of prejudice you don’t have any idea what it really feels like. And that’s where we need some education in this country.
Twenty years ago I landed a job at Merrill Lynch and met a strong, independent, powerful woman, Jan Sparrow. We became friends and in 2000 we left Merrill Lynch to start our own consulting business. It was when Jan and I began to travel and work together that I saw the bias.
Though Jan had 16 more years in corporate America than I did and vast amounts of experience, she was often ignored when we pitched business and I was focused on. In hotels and airlines (when they still controlled upgrades) I was given upgrades and she wasn’t even though we had identical status in both. In meetings Jan was talked over and interrupted while I was allowed to speak unhindered. It was amazing and appalling. That’s what opened my eyes.
I always believed that everyone had an equal opportunity in this country, but the new research is pointing to a darker reality, our unconscious biases. We don’t know that we score women lower than men when we rate teachers, politicians and professionals. We complement girls and women on their looks and boys and men on their success. When meeting with married couples we defer to men in decision-making, sometimes not even looking at the women in meetings. When a man is strong and aggressive we call him “a go-getter” but if a women is strong and aggressive we call her a "bitch."
Sadly I use to defend myself by saying to women that I wasn’t the enemy; I believed in equality. Now I know that is not enough. I have to believe in inequality, in the subconscious bias that our society, our world teaches us. Jan and every women deserves that from me.
So, now I’m conscious of how women are treated in the boardroom, in lines, at dinners because I’m starting to see the reality that they are not treated equally. To all the men I suggest you find a professional female colleague and follow her around for a day with open eyes and ears. You will be amazed. To all the women, I encourage you to stand up to the misogyny and help us to open our eyes.
**the reference below is the link to Nicholas Kristoff’s NYT article that inspired this blog. He has the research on bias in his article.