Blame game

Sheryl Sandberg sounds like a truly impressive women. The chief operating officer at Facebook, she is one of the few women in senior roles in Silicon Valley.

Reading about her stellar career in an article in The New Yorker recently it’s clear Sanderg takes her role very seriously and wants to inspire other women. During a TEDWomen talk last December, Sandberg advised women to ‘sit at the table’ and negotiate for what they want, make sure they have a real partner at home, and don’t ‘lean back’ or rule yourself out of opportunities when you are taking time out for children.

The talk has been viewed more than 650,000 times, the article states. Then I was struck by this paragraph.

“Sandberg says she eventually realised that women, unlike men, encountered tradeoffs between success and likability. The women had internalized self-doubt as a form of self-defense: people don’t like women who boast about their achievements. the solution, she began to think, lay with the women. She blamed them more for their insecurities than she blamed men for their insensitivity or their sexism”, journalist Ken Auletta writes.

This default to blaming women (or men) for the lack of gender equity is unhelpful. It seems to me the more we talk about women’s failures the more we rely on unhelpful generalistions and stereotypes that continue to hamper rather than change the way organisations operate.

Some women may not be assertive in workplaces but there’s very little evidence to suggest this is an inherent or genetic issue. Surely it’s about the context they operate in? And many studies point out that women behaving more assertively are often penalised because they are seen as lacking in femininity.

It’s the system rather than the individual psychology of women that needs examining.

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