I want to talk about three incidences and what it says about how women think about themselves:

(1) A brilliant consulting manager, really smart and tough lady, tries to convince me that men are superior to women. Really!?

(2) The female senior director of a large New York web design studio with clients like Vogue etc. tries to convince me that our logo should be a tie since we are business firm. That is one of the most sexist and ridiculous things I have ever seen in my life. That meeting ended in 17 minutes, since she never understood the implied sexism of the logo with a tie.

(3) A brilliant PhD student wanted me to use a tie in our icons and logos. Same as above, these little symbols all reinforce the idea that business is a male dominated field, and these symbols subconsciously feed the ridiculous narrative that women cannot succeed in management consulting.

The point is that women will never do any different unless they internally believe they are equal to men. It is baffling that the single largest consumer group in the world refuses to punish companies that are inherently sexist. Vote with your wallet!

This podcast discusses this internal barrier women face: they reinforce/encourage symbols of sexism which reinforce the concept of sexism. It’s the broken windows theory being applied to female career progression.


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8 responses to Women are their own worst enemies

  1. Thanks Rebecca. It one of my favourite podcasts too.


  2. One of my favorite podcasts. Thanks!

  3. Hi Hannah,

    You raise two great and absolutely true points.

    First, there are many, many societal barriers that are physical in nature. It will take many decades to change. Possibly centuries. And this refers to he most “liberal” societies like those in parts of the west. The rest will take much longer.

    Second, men need to help the transition. When we say, women must be more involved and engaged we need to add “…and men need to actively help them.” It is incredible that many simply fold their arms back and expect change to happen.

    Behind a successful female leader is a supportive partner. And vice-versa.

    The idea of role models is true. That is slowly happening and we will see more of this over time.

    Thanks for the great contributions Hannah.


  4. Hi Michael,

    Very empowering talk, I would have liked to see more comments from female readers here.

    It is correct that women have low expectation of themselves. I’m not defending women and I completely agree with you that women have to change. But I also want to show that sometimes it is just very difficult to do so:

    1. Most common reason is the current culture/environment. In some countries women can’t even drive or have to go out with full body veils. In many Asian countries, women are expected to just stay home and raise children. For those women who have never been exposed to other cultures/ideas, that is all they see and have to conform to.

    2. Now for the second group of women who live in more open societies, I would expect them to have a broader view, but why is it not the case?

    I would say that the main reason why they still think lowly of themselves is because the society is changing very slowly, also because of the lack of mentors/models.

    There are some strong powerful female models, but they are very few. What women need is close mentors/models who encourage them to be powerful and believe in themselves. We can only believe so much and do so much, but if the immediate circle is not supportive, it is difficult to make significant changes.

    So I would say that in order to change this phenomenon, we also need all the husbands, boyfriends, male friends, male teachers etc. to be our mentors and support. Changes take place over generations. Once this current generation empowers themselves through support of their male friends and families, the next generation will benefit from their powerful mothers and so on.

    I was fortunate to be born strong and to have very supportive male mentors, but not everyone is lucky. So I only ask all the men out there to be patient and supportive.

    Michael, what you do is very important. If you see that someones has low self-esteem, just let them know and help them (sometimes people are unaware of their shortcomings and it takes little to change). Though please be patient and keep pushing! Thanks.



  5. Hi BBoy, that is pretty much it. We tend to be bad as humans about judging quality and intent, so we rely on other cues and symbols to indicate what is good for us. This pretty much the halo effect at work. That is why I always recommend people to read that book and understand their biases. Michael

  6. Hm! Interesting. See, it never even occurred to me. I’ve always known that women aren’t allowed in the Masters, but somehow it never struck me until now.

    Perhaps a logical explanation can be found in our evolutionary past. It would have made sense for our ancestors to quickly judge environmental threats strictly by their appearance. If that slender structure in the dark looks like a snake, I’d rather assume it is one and take the necessary precautions instead of lying there trying to come up with decision trees and hypotheses for what it actually is 🙂

    Basically, we tend to judge books by their covers. If that weren’t the case smart marketing and election campaigns would not be so successful as they are today. When you think of the Master’s, you think of respectable men in green suits making nice victory speeches. So the subconscious logic goes, “If they decide not to admit women, there must be some valid reason right?” On the other hand, Russian political governance isn’t exactly known to be the most exemplary, so their bigoted policies are magnified in the public consciousness.

    Not to excuse this behavior, but I think on some level we all fall prey to this. Studies have shown that more attractive people are treated as more trustworthy, they receive shorter jail sentences etc. I think you mentioned the halo effect somewhere. Fortunately, modern science is forcing us to at least think and if possible try to correct for some of these biases. Of course scientific evidence does not appeal to everyone but that is another story.

  7. Hello BBoy, thanks for your comments. I agree that many of us receive subtle low expectations messages which are conveyed as conventional wisdom or tradition. What makes this tough is that many of these sexist/bigoted traditions are glamorized to the extent that the person being discriminated against actually ends up defending it!
    For example, there is talk of boycotting the Russian Olympic Games but not a single group discusses boycotting the Augusta Masters for not allowing women to join. Why is that?

  8. Great stuff Michael. I believe the same applies for certain minority groups living and working in Caucasian-dominated societies.

    I think one of the root causes of the issue is something that former President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. Basically, we tend to value the subtle messages that we constantly receive from those whom we trust, and most often than not, these messages are telling us to lower our expectations. Paradoxically, some of these people in our closest circle may be acting out of what they think is our best interest e.g., they might suggest not striving for a particular job or position because they don’t want to see us go through the necessary pain and sweat involved.

    The key lesson here is to be able to actively recognize when this happens, and then make decisions based on what we want out of life rather than what others think we should want. Easier said than done, but we’ve got to start from somewhere and make baby steps.

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