Powerful Women Pay A Price

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Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) Chief Operating Officer, wrote a book titled, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The crux of the book’s message is that equal treatment of genders remains a far way off. To remedy this problem, argues Sandberg, more women need to be in powerful positions.

It isn’t that all women need to be political, financial or business leaders. Rather, the message is that women, in general, would benefit from more women in leadership positions; leaders who would give voice to women’s needs and concerns thereby resulting in more equitable regard for all women.

But hey, I’m a guy. Best to get some back up here from an extraordinary woman, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, who said:

When it comes to thinking about women in powerful positions, we are too often blinded by the daggers of the mind, infected by the malignant mind bugs that mire us in the prejudices of the past.

We need a 21st century mentality for women’s economic participation. We need to flush away the flotsam of ingrained gender inequality.”

Courage and Smarts

Certainly, many women today have taken hold the reins and then some. A few random examples include: Ginni Rometty, IBM Chief Executive Officer (NYSE:IBM); Indra Nooyi, Pepsi Chief Executive Officer (NYSE:PEP); Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Janet Yellen, USA Federal Reserve Chair; Jody Wilson-Raybould, Attorney General of Canada; and Abigail Johnson, Fidelity Investments USA Chief Executive Officer.

These women are to be admired for a host of reasons, not the least of which is overcoming bias inherent in a societal system built by, and favoring, men.

As importantly, they may be looked upon as positive role models, as people contributing to refashioning a society blinking less and less when a woman rises to the top, be it in business, politics, finance, law, media, medicine or any other industry.

And owing to the courage and smarts of this sort of exceptional woman, my teenage daughter is growing up in a society where arbitrary, destructive, gender barriers continue to be pushed aside by determined, forward thinking, progressive, not-stuck-in-the-Pleistocene-era women and men. For this I am grateful. For a kinder, gentler world, we will all benefit.

Cost Of Breaking Glass Ceiling

Yet, is there a downside cost to women climbing a stairway to the corner office?

While shattering of the metaphorical glass ceiling becomes more commonplace, and some women achieve wealth and/or power during their ascent, career success may come at the expense of marriage.

According to results of a study undertaken by psychology researchers Dr. Brian Lewis (University of California in Los Angeles) and Stephanie L. Brown (University of Michigan), published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, many men tolerate, accept, even embrace women participating in the economy on a more equal basis. However, when it comes to wading into the marriage market, men of all stripes show a marked preference for less accomplished women.

The theory goes like this: men’s preference for less dominant women is “rooted in the evolutionary drive to pass on genes to the next generation.”

Meaning, a long time ago, thy creature known as knuckle dragging man possessed limited resources. Not wanting to dedicate sparse means to another man’s child, he sought a submissive woman, one whose behaviour he could “exert some kind of influence” over in order to reduce the threat of paternal uncertainty. Um … to restate that in street lingo, a woman whom HE could control, who would not be seduced by some other hairy, grunting dude.

And as a result of man’s historical preference for obedient women, successive generations of males inherited genes encoding attraction to compliant women.

Evolution Interruptus

So, the more women achieve, the less desirable they become?

If the study’s findings are accurate then, not unlike fruit flies, man is biologically programmed to behave a certain way, including seeking control of his mate. If so, then vanity and insecurity may no longer be held responsible for man’s general avoidance of more accomplished women since, at least in a romantic context, evolution may have passed him by.