I was in Berlin a while ago, where I met one of Germany's most successful female business executives. She is 42, single and excels in her line of work. It was recommended by a friend that she join an online dating site if she wanted to find a suitable partner.
She proceeded to a site and meticulously answered all the questions that the site required such as age, job, salary level, and uploaded a photo and yes, she is very good looking.
The days went by, and she received less than a handful of responses in four weeks! She found the situation peculiar and decided to test whether the few responses had anything to do with her job/profile. She decided to change the text of her profile. Instead of presenting herself as an executive of a corporation, she wrote that she was a teacher and dramatically reduced her salary level by up to 1/10 of her actual salary. She did not change her profile image, and in one day she received more than 40 responses from potential suitors.
What does this say about women, power, and men?
An American study dated back in 2006 shows that many men do not want to spend their lives in a competitive relationship. Therefore, you can say that it is an emotional, not a rational, decision when men choose not to be with a more successful woman. So perhaps, it may have been her job that scared men off?
According to many men, successful women are charismatic, and they love to be around them, but they do not want these types of women to be their wives. Therefore, do men prefer passive women with bird brains? This same study indicates that “female intelligence might be threatening for heterosexual men sizing up a prospective partner." A while ago, I was fortunate to be invited to a Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in England. Almost 200 women attended the dinner—women whom you would most likely read about in Time and Fortune magazines. An unequaled wealth of knowledge and inspiration filled the room that evening.
Many of these women had so much edge, competence, and capital that they didn't feel as though they needed men. Let me make it clear that many were in a relationship with a man, but they sure didn't “need" one. This had me thinking have successful women realized that men are backing out, and as a result, decided to move forward with their success along? If so, then, have successful women decided to move forward without men?
The current economic empowerment of women across the world is one of the most incredible revolutions of the past 50 to 60 years. It is extraordinary because of the level of change it has caused in the traditional household: millions of people who were once reliant on men have taken control of their own economic fates.
As a result, many women are now claiming that “they don't need/want men." The number of single women turning to sperm donors to conceive a baby has risen. About 172,000 women per year in the United States use sperm in artificial insemination, a procedure with approximately a 38 percent success rate to have children, without men. What does it mean for a society when men and women no longer need one another to have children? Many critics say this trend could pose a threat to our society and welfare system. So, is it the men who choose to do without the women? Or is it the women who decide to do without the men?
The other day, I was in Sweden with one of the very few female top executives of big listed corporations. She is British, beautiful and brilliant. She is also married and a mother of twins. We sat there with a glass of wine and took a rest after a hectic day. We had, among other things, spent the evening in the company of some of Sweden's most progressive business women. We were wondering at the fact that although many were married, many more were single or divorced. But what they all did have in common was that they were, successful, intelligent and beautiful. I decided to figure out the reason for this.
During the last eight weeks, I have gathered material from and conducted short interviews with women from various places in Europe. Which later inspired my book "Busy Moms." I held a meeting with one of the most talented female executives in Denmark's financial sector. She was the last participant in my round of interviews. So here is my conclusion, which I hope you will look into more deeply.
1. Eight out of ten business women say men do not come on to them. Men like to be friends with them but do not see them as potential partners.
2. Four out of ten women I spoke to, believed that the reason is that men get scared off when they hear about their jobs and responsibilities. In other words, men immediately lose their interest when they hear about their success.
3. In Europe, many of these women have chosen not to have a large family because figures show that the more children women have, the lower the status they have in the job market.
4. One out of five I spoke to say they have decided to do without a family/children to focus on their careers.
Are women progressing at a faster rate than men?
In the olden days, the man provided for his family, while the woman's role was to stay at home and take care of the kids. Most often, the woman did not receive any further education aside from basic school, and therefore, there was no basis for women to enter the job market. Fortunately, this has changed over time. If the current trends continue, the traditional family structure will turn upside down, and the typical family will look quite different from what we are used to seeing.
Today, more girls than boys take further education. If this development continues, the man in the family will be far less successful, while the woman will hold more managerial positions or become lawyers, doctors, and business owners. And what consequences will that have on our family structures and the future job market?
What do you think is the reason for these trends? Do you think that the fact that more and more women have higher education than men will lead to a real problem in your country? Do you have some experiences you would like to share? Are men weak? Are women foolish for focusing so much on their careers? Or is the reason something completely different? Regardless, this has become an issue worth having a debate over.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."