My Thoughts On...What Caused The Gender Gap?

Posted by Duane Cummings on 05/17/2016


From the U.S. Women’s Soccer team to countless other cases, legal battles are being waged as a result of “The Gender Gap.”

For those of you who haven’t heard that phrase before, it represents the inequality in pay and opportunity between men and women in the workplace.

I’ve found it incredibly interesting that much of the discussion revolves around how to "close the Gap,” but I’ve yet to hear many people addressing "what caused it?"  

The few people who do tackle the question say things like, "it's the byproduct of choices women make," or "women have historically had limited access to higher education." Those issues may have perpetuated the problem, but they aren't the root cause.

For me, knowing the origin of this problem is vital. I believe if we’re going to level the playing field, we must begin by looking at the base it was built upon?                                                                                                              

Think about it, if cracks were found in a building, engineers would start their investigation by checking the foundation. In the case of medicine, doctors seek to find the cause of an illness, rather than just focusing on the symptoms.

So, for the last few months, I’ve spent a great deal of time investigating, "what caused The Gender Gap,” and I think I've found the answer. It’s my hope that identifying the root of the problem will not only aid us in rectifying the current situation, but can teach us lessons that may eliminate similar predicaments in the future.

The disclaimer---I neither claim to be a women, nor am I an expert in gender equity, so there are sure to be “cracks” in my opinion. In fact, I’ve knowingly left a couple for you to fill in.  So, thank you in advance for your contribution.

It just so happens there's a comment box at the bottom of the post, and I welcome all criticisms, points of view, as well as any support for my position and I'm counting on my wife to be kind.  So, without further ado…

Have you ever wondered why people wear suits to work, use terminology like, “rank and file,” or who thought of using a flowchart to identify the chain of command in a corporation? 

It’s because our corporate structure was modeled after the military, and by adopting that blueprint, we unknowingly planted the seed of “Gender Inequality” in the workplace long ago. 

There are lots of clues to support my position.  Think about it, women haven’t been wearing suits in the workplace for as long as men, nor do we see females regularly filling the top positions in corporations...Interesting parallels to the military don't you think?  Let me give you a little more to ponder.

For over 3,000 years, women have been involved in the military.  Although they would often have to conceal their identity and wear a disguise to join.   

Historically, females were usually in support positions like nurses or administration. The unfortunate truth is, even when they wore an official military uniform, women were often unpaid volunteers.

Interestingly, the number of women, and the positions they held drastically changed when World War II began. Due to the high demand on male enlistment, females were called into action. In fact, approximately 350,000 of them joined in the war effort and many held roles beyond support positions.

In a bold move for the time, approximately 1,000 became pilots and although women proved they could serve as equals, those in the WASP (Women’s Air Force Service Pilots) units were considered civil service employees. Tragically, even though 38 of them died during the war, they didn’t receive full honors and benefits until 1977.

Since World War II, there has been a steady climb in the percentage of women in the military, as well as the number of those who became officers. But, it hasn’t been until the last couple of decades that women have been allowed to serve in combat positions. 

Unfortunately, even with the increase in female involvement in the military, the gap continues to widen.

Perhaps it’s because we look at females as nurturers and subconsciously believe that losing a women negatively affects (regardless of the percentage) the ability of the human species to continue.

But, here’s an interesting thought I initially missed…and the real reason the military model doesn't work.

An army and a corporation don’t have the same goals, missions, or vision.

Think about it, an army is built to deter, defend, or destroy. A corporation is created in order to provide a service, or fulfill the needs and wants of a consumer.  

What an opportunity there could be for all of us, if we simply had a better model. Because as a group, women are better communicators.  They are also more empathetic---which is the number one trait employees hope to find in a leader.

In addition, women are fantastic at multi-tasking. If don’t believe me, trade places with a working mother for a week and I bet you'll change your mind.  

Thanks to the open reporting of publicly traded companies, we also know in many cases women are performing incredibly well in leadership positions.  If you'd like an example, check out Kat Colewho is president and CEO of Cinnabon.

She has become extremely successful and fortunately, she never had to put her life on the line in the boardroom.  For if that was a prerequisite, she may never have had the chance to show the world how great she is.  

So, let’s make a decision to build a new model.  One based on a solid foundation, that provides equal opportunity for anyone to reach their full potential regardless of gender. And in the meantime, we can refer to Mark Weinberger’s LinkedIn Article On 3 Ways To Close The Gender Gap Now to give us some great ideas on what we can do to stop the current gap from widening.

I think my neighbor summed up the situation perfectly when she said,

"It's like someone opened a restaurant with only meat on the menu, never realizing there are vegetarians in the world."

Let's just hope going forward that our "diet is more balanced and NO ONE goes hungry." 

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Duane Cummings