The Double-Standard of Women at Work


There is essentially endless writing about the role of gender in the home, workplace and politics.  I’m not going to try to summarize this all together, but pick on a particular phenomenon that stuck out to me watching TV that I think is a real issue.  This issue is when women want to be in the workplace, but don’t want their husbands working with women.

A couple of disclaimers, to be clear: First, I am way behind on TV (investors in Wallaby are cheering this, I assume). Second, this is decidedly not about my relationship with my wife.

Most workplaces are still very gender biased.  There are places with many women working: think of libraries, schools, and healthcare.  There are  places with many men working: think of software companies (natch), engineering firms, law firms.  I am in 100% agreement that more balance is better.

At Wallaby, we make strong efforts to hire women, although our record is not great (2 of 8 as of this writing). This is not for not trying: there are a limited number of applicants (read almost none) for our software engineering roles who are women.  This is primarily what we do.  Of the not product develop roles, and excluding myself, we are 2/2 for women hires.

I am also the father of two daughters, and I strongly encourage them to pursue whatever their dreams are.  They can be librarians like their mother and grandmother; they can be engineers; they can be truck drivers; they can be hair dressers.  I would be thrilled and proud to see them writing code, doing math or leading businesses.  I want to see them at work with whatever they love (in, you know, 20 years).

Back to this episode of Parenthood, which I think does a good job of exploring family issues, even with a Hollywood veneer.  Joel (played by an actor we see at the coffee shop in our building all of the time) is a general contractor (very manly) and is working with an architect on a job.  The architect is a woman.  Joel’s wife, a lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-mom, is very concerned that Joel is being taken advantage of by the architect. She is suspicious of her.  I think because she is a woman.  Were this architect a man, things would be different.  

Now, if I were caught up on TV, I might know how this ends. However, here I know the problem, and it is one I am conscious of.  With men and women working together it is inevitable they will go to dinner together and get drinks. I get drinks with all my co-workers, but do I need to worry or does my spouse, my coworker or her spouse need worry when we have a cross gender one-on-one dinner.

The answer should be “no,” but it’s probably not for most people. If we want to get to the point where men and women are treated fairly at work (in pay, in role, and more) then we need to allow our spouses to spend time with their co-workers guilt free and with trust.

Yes, there are many other issues (as mentioned, I am not taking them on in this blog), but if I worry that I can’t go to a dinner because my spouse will be suspicious, it will be hard for me to excel at my job.  Women need to empower other women by trusting husbands to go to dinners.  (Corollary: men need to empower women, by trusting their wives to go to dinners.)

I am very fortunate that I do not have to worry about all this personally. I have seen it affect other I know and I challenge us all to support our spouses fully.