Tag Archives: sexism

To Women in Business: Lessons from Female Heavy Metal Singers

By Joanie Connell and John Thornburgh

Letangry women’s face it: women in the workplace aren’t exactly known for supporting each other.

Rosa Brooks exemplifies this with her recent Washington Post op-ed piece titled “Recline, don’t ‘Lean In’ (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg).” In the op-ed, Brooks attacks Sandberg’s “meticulously coiffed hair,” among other things. Can you imagine a man writing a piece like this? While Brooks’ article raises many points worthy of consideration, it’s unfortunate that she preyed on the stereotype of women cat-fighting to grab the attention of the media. The documentary film Miss Representation captures many more examples of how women tear down other women in the workplace and the media.

Research supports the notion that women don’t support women at work. For example, the 2014 Survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that women who bully target other women 68% of the time, whereas men who bully tend to target both men and women more equally (43% and 57%, respectively). “Why do mature, normally reasonable women do this to each other?” Asks Lisa Quast in her recent Forbes article. Good question! Quest offers many reasons, as does Amy Tennery in her recent article in Time. Competitive threat, stereotype threat, lack of training in team sports, and tokenism in a male dominated business world are a few explanations given.

Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, in their thoroughly researchedwoman with man at work book, Through the Labyrinth, explain that women have to be assertive yet feminine and work their way up the ladder in a more subtle, convoluted way than men. If women act like men, they are perceived as “bitches” (our word not theirs). That is a fate worse than death to any aspiring business woman. It doesn’t have to be this way though and women heavy metal singers are proving it.

You don’t have to be a fan of heavy metal music to recognize that it is the epitome of a male dominated culture. The “good old boys” consist of Aerosmith, Metallica, Van Halen, Scorpions, and Black Sabbath, to Kissname a few. They are a menacing, shrieking, growling, aggressive bunch, and metal fans aren’t known for being particularly feminist. Discussion boards on metal sites such as Blabbermouth.net are filled with misogynistic comments about how women don’t belong, and when one leading female-fronted band opened for Metallica in France, the audience booed as soon as the band took the stage. Record labels haven’t always helped either. For example, Delain singer (and Gender Studies graduate student) Charlotte Wessels had to fight efforts by her previous label to Photoshop her legs.

How have women broken into the male-dominated metal culture? If you aren’t a fan of heavy metal music, you might be surprised to know that there is a strong feminine presence developing. If you are an American (metal fan or not), you may be particularly unaware of this trend. That is because it’s largely a European trend. (Coincidentally, European business women are faring better than American ones too. What’s up, America?)

Women in business could learn a thing or two from women in metal. They know how to support each other and break into a male-dominated business.

What are female heavy metal singers doing that gets them ahead? First of all, they are not afraid to be themselves—feminine and beautiful and a stark contrast to the male singers. Secondly, they are notoriously supportive of each other. For example, established women metal singers regularly collaborate with up-and-coming artists they like, helping them to grab the spotlight. For example, Amy Lee of Evanescence performed with up-and-comer Lzzy Hale of Halestorm several times recently while they were on tour together. This helped promote Halestorm’s breakthrough. Lee explained: “It’s cool to have another female on the road. Not just because it inspires me musically—because it does—it makes me feel this sort of pride and ‘yeah, go get’em’ when I see a chick rocking.”

women metal supporting each other clippedHighly successful women metal singers, far from being divas who want all the glory for themselves, also regularly collaborate on each other’s albums. This delights fans and is a win-win for the artists. For example, Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish) appeared with Sharon den Adel on Within Temptation’s latest album. In the “making of” video, Sharon relays that the media had been pitting the two singers against each other for years and asking the two of them to comment on each other, even though they had never met. When they finally did meet for this endeavor, they clicked instantly and sang a beautiful duet together.

Women in metal are also highly supportive of each other online. They promote each other’s work on Facebook, and for a time even had an official support network called Eve’s Apple with over forty members worldwide. This group Eve's Apple at MFVFrecently declared “mission accomplished” and ended its formal role, but the members remain sisters who look out for each other and advise each other about the music business. One of Eve’s Apple’s leaders, VK Lynne, explains “in the media today, competition between women is very pervasive. It’s not just talked about. It’s fostered, and it’s supported, and it’s encouraged. And at Eve’s Apple, we believe that not only is that not healthy but we simply don’t want it and so we won’t do it.” There’s nothing stopping women in the more traditional workplace from doing the same.

It’s okay to be different from men and sometimes it’s even better.

What if women business leaders started just being themselves instead of tirelessly tight-roping across the line between masculine assertiveness and feminine modesty? There is diverse meetingalready research out there that shows companies with gender-diverse management boards perform better. What if women were valued for being women in the world of business? If women supported women, there might be enough women leaders to make that happen. Female heavy metal singers have; they are definitely not like men and no one wants them to be.

Share the spotlight with an up-and-comer.

How cool would it be if high profile women business leaders helped up-and-coming women to “grab the spotlight?” Men do that for each other. It’s called “sponsoring” someone. It’s putting your name on the woman presentingline for the other person’s success and highlighting the other person to help them get ahead. Women tend to avoid this and see more junior women as a threat. For example, as reported in Science Magazine, a recent study found that, “in academia, women collaborate less with their same-sex juniors” than men do. Women see that there are so few slots available to women in the higher echelon that they don’t want someone else to take theirs. If there were more women in the higher echelons, women wouldn’t see other women as threats because there would be room enough for everyone.

Metal women singers see other women as helping their cause, not hindering it—the more the better. As explained by French singer Clémentine Delauney, “[We] can help and protect each other instead of being rivals. … There are not a limited number of places in the scene. Jealousy is ridiculous and doesn’t help you get better.” When metal women singers sponsor other women, the only threat to them is if the women don’t do a good job. Thus, they do their best to bring the other women up, not push them down. At Eve’s Apple: “We wanted to help new singers understand the music industry and we wanted to show everybody that the female fronted rock/metal scene is not about bitch fights, gossip and diet marathons. It was the beginning of a new family and a whole new world opened up to many of us when we found out that we are not alone—and not lonely—in this business.”

Move from collaborative to collaborating.

Women are known for having a more collaborative leadership style than men, but that is not the same thing as collaborating. The collaborative leadership style is more democratic and consensus-driven than directive and authoritarian. Although women may be more collaborative, they don’t necessarily collaborate with each other.

A photo essay in BusinessWeek shows 11 business partnerships that changed the world, like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They are almost entirely partnerships between men and none are entirely between women. What would it look like if women leaders collaborated with each other to change the world? Women in music are leading the way. In addition to heavy metal singers, pop singers, like Britney Spears, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston have made top hits by singing together. Many business initiatives exist to encourage women to collaborate with each other, particularly in science and technology. The idea is clearly out there. Let’s see more women do it.

Promote other women’s work in social media

Social media has been called a narcissist’s heaven because it is a venue to shamelessly self-promote and see yourself on screen. However, experts in social media suggest that the best way to get out there is to promote others. Metal women singers have learned this, and so can women business leaders. Some women have started. For example, Oprah promotes women and is currently supporting Lavern Chatman for congress. Lean In promotes women and offers Lean In Circles as a way of sharing and learning together. This is start, but let’s see more!

Learning from heavy metal singers is not as much of a stretch as you might think. Music is art, but it is also a business. Heavy metal female singers are making deliberate business decisions to collaborate with and support other women. As a result, female metal stars are growing in popularity, with more bands, releases, and fans each year. The Pretty Reckless (featuring ex-Cindy Lou Who, Taylor Momsen), recently topped U.S. rock radio, only the second female-fronted band rock onin the last 24 years to do so, after Halestorm last year. Both bands benefited from the support of veteran Evanescence, and both bands in turn have supported other female-fronted bands.

Rock on, heavy metal women, rock on!

Contributors:
Joanie Connell has 15 years experience as an organizational consultant and has a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley (http://www.flexibleworksolutions.com).

John Thornburgh is a contributor to Sonic Cathedral, a webzine devoted to female-fronted metal (http://www.soniccathedral.com/webzine/).

Thanks to Tim Tronckoe for permission to use his photograph of Eve’s Apple at the Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium (https://www.facebook.com/tim.tronckoe).

Images of Sharon den Adel and Tarja Turunen are from Within Temptation’s “Paradise (What About Us?)” music video.

Why Is Pregnancy a Women’s Problem?

baby at laptopBy Joanie Connell

Babies are a part of life. We were all babies once. Most of us will have babies. And, whether or not we do, we need babies to continue our society. So, why is it that the burden of having babies has landed completely on women?

The recent HBR discussion on whether women are obligated to tell potential employers that they are pregnant when they interview is a great example of how women are blamed for having babies. The conundrum is: tell the potential employer and don’t get hired or don’t tell the potential employer and be called a liar. It’s a lose-lose situation for pregnant women looking for work.

Are men liars if they don’t tell their potential employers that they have medical conditions that might affect their work? It’s interesting that pregnancy is considered a medical condition that needs to be disclosed, even though people have fought hard to have the right to privacy over their medical issues. The disability act requires employers to find a way to deal with a disability, but why don’t employers have the same obligation to find a way to deal with pregnancy? Isn’t that gender biased?

In an ideal society, we’d all be honest with each other and give each other warning when things were about to change. But this is not an ideal society. Employers don’t do it and neither do employees. Why are women held to a higher standard?

More to the point, however, is that we all have to bear the cost of having babies and we all get to reap the benefits of having babies too. We think so often about how people who don’t have babies are saddled with the cost of other people (especially women) having babies. But, could it actually be the other way around? It could be argued that people who don’t have babies are free riders of a sort.

The problem with the blame game is that it blocks productivity. We’ve seen this on a large scale, for example, when Congress disagrees on the budget and when presidents are investigated. Our government comes to a standstill. People get so rooted into a position that they bring everyone down disagreeing. They’re fighting for win-lose but everyone loses.

Pregnant womanWe’re asking the wrong questions about pregnancy at work. We shouldn’t be thinking at the granular level of what he said/she said or if he/she should hire this person or that. The reason why women are losing out is that employers keep thinking at the level of “would this person be better for me over the next 3 months” rather than what is the best solution for the company over the long-term? This is a pennywise, pound foolish approach. Women are losing wages and opportunity and companies are losing access to a huge portion of the productive workforce.

Let’s turn pregnancy into a win-win proposition by asking ourselves to challenge our current assumptions and think in new and creative ways. Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we started implementing solutions rather than blaming and harping on problems of pregnancy at work—if we found ways to leverage the productivity of pregnant women and mothers, rather than write them off as being less worthy? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we found a way to collectively bring in the next generation of leaders and employees while supporting the current leaders and employees? Think of how much more we could get done!

Pregnancy is not a women’s problem. It is a part of life that can drain or regenerate our society, depending on how we handle it.

Women in Leadership: What We Deal With

by Joanie Connell

woman and man tug of warI was carpooling recently with three business colleagues, all male. One of them noticed someone in the car ahead cutting us off. He blurted out, “It’s a woman!” All of us looked a little surprised. One of the other men in the car said, “At least he didn’t say it must be a woman!” to the rest of us. The first colleague then went on to say that “the two worst things for our country were letting women drive and letting them vote.”

Yes, this happened in the year 2014. A man said that out loud, in a business context, with a woman present. He’s lucky he didn’t receive a black-belt-level kick in the back of the head from me at the time and he’s lucky now that he is remaining anonymous in this blog.

woman leader climbing ladderFor all you people out there who think that sexism and other “isms” are gone, you are wrong. I heard from another colleague just the other day that women leaders take time off to have babies and they shouldn’t progress to the top because of that. This was a woman speaking in the context of a discussion of why the percentage of women on Fortune 100 Boards has not increased over the years.

Yes, this was also 2014. A woman said that women shouldn’t be leaders of Fortune 100 companies because they have babies. She’s lucky I had an appointment to get to at the time and she’s lucky to remain anonymous in this blog too. Babies? All women? Never be top leaders? Don’t even get me started.

I’ve never been one of those people who can produce a zinger of a response in the moment. In fact, I still don’t even have zingers for these two people. It’s just too big for a zinger. I need a manuscript.

But what I want to say to you, the reader, is that, no matter what anyone tells you, it is challenging for women to be leaders even still. For all of you who think that sexism and other “isms” are a thing of the past, beware. They aren’t. And how are you to deal with that? The question to ask yourself is, do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution? Do you value equality? If so, it’s time to take a look at how you put this value into play. I’d like to challenge you to challenge others in their beliefs and in their behaviors.

I didn’t tell you what I said to these folks and the many others I’ve had to deal with saying disparaging comments about women to me, but I can assure you that I did speak up. And I can assure you that people know me as a person of character who challenges them to do the right thing.

In fact, a few years back I chaired a dissertation defense meeting on the topic of gender stereotyping. Would you believe, during the meeting one of the male committee members made several sexist remarks to the female candidate! How did I handle this? I shut down the behavior in the meeting and I followed up with individual meetings with each person who was on the committee and in the room, including the person who made the remarks. The goal was to give constructive feedback to my colleague on how his behavior impacted others to help him be more inclusive in the future. I hope it helped.

Just so you know, it was extremely uncomfortable for me to have to go to a colleague and call him out on his sexist remarks. It would have been so much easier to just let it go. But it needed to be done and I needed to do it because I value equality and inclusion.

One of my role models for advocating inclusion is Bernardo Ferdman. He’s one of those people who does even better than coming up with a zinger. HDiversity at Work book covere comes up with constructive responses that challenge the person’s thinking and behavior in a positive way to bring about inclusiveness. He has a new book out on the very topic of inclusiveness and I highly recommend it for you and your organizations. I’ve wanted to buy it myself, but it is hardcover and it carries a hefty price tag. I’ve been telling myself that it’s too expensive to buy. After the last couple of weeks, however, I think it’s too expensive not to.

I’ll leave you with a final fact, which might surprise you. The people in the three examples I gave are all high-level, highly influential leaders, with global impact. Don’t ask me who they are or even try to figure it out; I won’t tell you. The purpose of this article is not to expose them; it’s to learn from them. The lesson is: your behavior does count. Make it count!