Saturday, December 11, 2010

As promised: My comments on Women, Scrutiny, and Criticism if No One Else Commented

Yes, it's only Sunday but still, the post that I asked for comments about ( "Women in Male-Dominated Fields Get More Scrutiny — And Harsher Judgments:12/8) didn't get a response. I'm disappointed that no readers had a great story to tell and/or time to do so. Maybe it will still happen. In the meantime I will pass on some thoughts.

Interesting old research on group dynamics, reported decades ago by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research supports the current finding about women in male-dominated fields — in different terms. In any group, formal or informal, when a new and/or different person joins, ongoing or long-term members of the group expect the newcomer to conform to the spoken/written and unspoken/unwritten group rules or norms. e.g. if a new person joins a board of directors, a work team, a civic club, and starts asking questions, making suggestions, wondering aloud about ongoing actions or practices, the group will quickly close ranks against the newcomer. The oldies will then press (subtly or aggressively) him or her to back off until he or she gets it — understand the process, the group norms, and the procedures. They will watch carefully and critically as the newcomer attempts to fit in.

Similarity and commonality bond people. We like people who we see as similar to ourselves and feel less comfortable with people we see as different. It's social psychology. It's  human nature. When someone different enters our sphere of influence, and we are already bonded with a bunch of other people in that group, the "outsider" will receive a lot of pressure to conform. It's true often with schoolkids and bullying, adults and reactions to diversity, politics and everyday life. Whoever "deviates" from group norms will be pushed to conform to the majority — or be pushed out of the group. Most people have had this experience during their lifetime and sometimes more than once or twice; with a formal work group or an informal book discussion group, with a church or family group, a team or at school.

Often women in male-dominated fields understand and choose not to conform for a variety of reasons. So they are subject to ongoing microscopic examination and criticism. The resilient women keep on trucking even though these situations are very stressful. These women can't afford the added stress of their own negative self-talk on top of the negativity of others toward them.

Sometimes in a paradoxical way, women, alone at the top in work situations, stop beating themselves up when others are super critical of them. Being bullied is a rough and tough catalyst, but it can push women to break the negative self-talk habit. "Wait a minute," you say to yourself. "I'm doing OK in this situation. I'm here because I have the credentials and experience to do this job. I don't do things just like the men do and they don't do things like I do. We can benefit from the strengths of each other. I'll remember that. I'll stay cool, not defensive. I'll use my good communication and leadership skills and keep moving forward."

I'm probably sounding over-idealistic about handling this kind of pressure. I've done it myself, well and poorly, including crying in front of, but with my back to the "opposition" once or twice. Not pretty, but I survived.

Still interested in your thoughts about this new and old research and your experience.
As promised: My comments on Women, Scrutiny, and Criticism if No One Else CommentedSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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