Does the Rhetoric On Women In the Workplace Leave Men Out?

In a kind of backlash against male-dominated workplaces and pay inequality, the past few years have been dominated by an intense focus on how women are faring in the workplace. Even though women make up over half of the United States’ professional workforce, questions still abound about whether or not it is possible for high-achieving women to balance work and family life.

Each time a new female CEO is chosen, like Yahoo!’s Melissa Meyer, people wonder whether or not she can balance the responsibilities of running a company and having a family. On the flip side, there is also Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement that encourages young women to throw their lives into their careers in order to get ahead. What you don’t find a lot of, though, is this kind of pearl-clutching over the careers of young men, at least according to Forbes columnist Peggy Drexler.

"The lexicon of women and work is crowded with terms like 'queen bee,' 'glass ceiling, 'burnout,' 'have it all,' 'mommy track,' 'on ramps,' and — now — 'lean in.' Name one for young men,” writes Drexler. In her view, the Millennial male is a softer man, one who “doesn’t mind sharing power with a new generation of high-achieving females.”

According to Drexler, research shows that 67 percent of women have career success at the top of their list of goals, compared to only 60 percent for men. Drexler suspects that women are quickly moving up in the world thanks to female-only scholarships and an increased focus on diversity in corporate America.

All I can say is that it is about damn time. Drexler is wrong in assuming that there are no terms in the corporate lexicon that are almost always used to describe men — “go-to guy,” “big shot,” “top dog.” These phrases may sound more Don Draper than Mark Zuckerberg, but anyone who’s worked in corporate America knows that they weren’t left behind in the 1960s like smoking in the office.

The key difference here is that men haven’t always needed a cheering section when it comes to the workplace. Women have always had to fight for space in the corporate world. It is women who have driven the efforts to pass sexual harassment laws and to receive paid maternity leave and birth control coverage on employer-paid insurance policies. And still, we haven’t solved that pesky pay gap issue.

I highly doubt that the progressive Millennial male has no problem with Sheryl Sandberg telling his female coworkers to “lean In.” If men do take issue with causes that empower women in the workplace, that’s because the game has always been rigged in their favor. It’s now much more difficult for them to skate by with mediocre work because they’re “one of the boys.” Studies have shown that women work harder and longer than men, and that’s because they’ve always had to.

Unfortunately, being told to “lean in” doesn’t help women find affordable daycare for their children so that they can put in the same hours as their male counterparts. “Work-life balance” is often an unattainable luxury for poor women who are working three minimum-wage jobs so that they can feed their kids. They may sound nice, but all of these empowering words do nothing to address the barriers that still exist for women in the workplace.