Women will be able to choose to be leaders when men can choose to be fathers

Margarita Alonso. General Director. IE Foundation

29 April 2016

The roles of men and women are still stuck in the stone age, while our equal opportunity laws result in differences that discriminate against both genders.


Gary Becker, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, said that marriage within the old paradigm was a rational trade-off in with gains for both men and women. In order for it to work there had to be total gender-based specializations coupled with binding commitments. 

Government, society, school and family provide a series of control mechanisms that guarantee the assumption of pre-assigned roles. The law, public opinion, education and customs, were some of those mechanisms, and helped craft masculine and feminine archetypes. 

Jung defines the male archetype as an abstraction of what a man and his attributes are that is subjective but universally recognized, applying the same method for the female archetype.

When a woman does not have a strong maternal instinct and is focused on her career, she is often pressured by her biological clock. That is because the feminine archetype is strongly associated with motherhood. Men, on the other hand, are pressured if they lose their job, and their self-esteem along with it, according to Shere Hite, the idea being that the masculine archetype is closely linked to his career path.

Although archetypes evolve over time, the length of time they linger is out of step with reality. In other words, men and women who are fully aligned in terms of equal opportunities, are victims of mental programming that is weighed down by deeply engrained archetypes which are forces of habit from the past.

It seems like we have been talking about equality of opportunities for centuries, but Becker’s specialization was carved out in a time when synergies between pregnancy, rearing children, caring for them and nurturing them, were clear cut. The tough job of hunting was left to stronger, heftier men. The hard task of survival for cave dwelling man and woman is now made easier by machines, and physical strength is now seldom a differentiating factor. 

Hence we find ourselves at the dawn of a new paradigm in which creative minorities, as defined by Fogarty and Rapoport, are starting to go mainstream. A growing critical mass of men and women, subject to the trial and error that is inevitable in any evolutionary process, is re-writing the rules of the game. 

The two biggest landmarks in this change are the new concept of family, which is more comprehensive, flexible and contingent, and the incorporation of women into the workforce, even if they are still underrepresented in the echelons of decisionmaking. Only 17% of IBEX firms have women CEOs and only 8% of their senior managers are women. 

Statistics tell us that women leaders are more collaborative. Some attribute this to genetic differences, but I see it as a consequence of centuries or millenniums of undertaking traditional roles.  

The pay gap is one of the consequences of this, and is often due to discrimination, but is sometimes due to the choices made by women themselves. 

Some of the conditioning factors are the capacity for negotiation, protection of the family income rather than that of the individual, lack of visibility, prejudices, the capacity to build and maintain contact networks, assertiveness, career choices (women are still a minority in engineering and science sectors, which are the best paid) or value placed on other aspects of work beyond salary, such as proximity to home, work environment, or nature of the project. Prioritizing these aspects reduces the focus on pay levels.

Finally, the law of equal opportunities is explicitly designed to protect maternity rights, rather than co-parenting. I wonder if women will ever be able to break away from the chrysalis of the old archetype which binds them so strongly to motherhood, if we don’t make it easier for men to help shape the new male archetype. 

As it stands, the equal opportunities laws discriminate against women, whether they are mothers or not, because they are always seen by employers as being the most responsible for children’s upbringing. Furthermore, the law discriminates against men who are breaking cultural barriers because they have to resort to measures created for women if they want to live the experience of fatherhood to the full, and said measures do not protect them to the same extent. The rules of the game require urgent revision so that men too can choose. 



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