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The Female Touch

Before I begin, I should tell you a little story. I was born of the Colored/Negro/Afro American/Black/African-American persuasion (although I'm still, 42 years later, trying to figure out exactly what that means!). However, in 1984 while attending a finance seminar at the University of Michigan, I, along with my seminar mates, filled out a "lifestyles survey", designed to tell us the risk of various aspects in our lifestyle, like smoking and drinking, killing us before the age of 50. Being only 32 at the time, I was really interested. When I got the survey results back, I was shocked. I didn't smoke, rarely drank, was an avid runner and tennis player so I was in excellent shape. Nevertheless, it seems I had a _very high_ risk of dying young. The reason: I was black! We've all heard the statistics about young black men having a high risk of violent death at a young age. Well, there you go.

Most of the others attending the class had no such risk, but they were all white. When I asked aloud about the results, the surveyor explained that the sample upon which the survey's predictions were based contained very few blacks. He also said not to worry: given my occupation, income, lifestyle, excellent health, etc., the survey results really didn't apply to me. For purposes of reading the results and determining my risk of early death, I was "white". So, in the future if I write something you don't like, please don't call me an uncle tom, because, I'm really white!

Today, I found out I'm also a woman. A front page article in the San Jose Mercury News entitled "WOMEN ARE LEADING CORPORATE CULTURE INTO THE FUTURE" begins like this:

"THOSE gray-flannel-suited, kick-butt-and-take-names individualists that corporate America has turned out for generations are getting some unexpected company:

"Workplace democrats with a small ''d.'' Collaborative types, sensitive listeners, nurturers, builders of relationships. Women.

"An array of forces -- computers that spread once-privileged information across the workplace, ''downsizing'' that puts bigger burdens on surviving managers, global competition that demands instant decisions -- are forcing companies to wring a new approach from managers.

"What many analysts define as the traditional ''female'' cultural style is uniquely equipped to meet those demands."

Now the article goes on to say that notions of "male" and "female" style are, in many respects, inaccurate. There are men who practice "female" styles as defined in the article, and women who practice "male" styles. In fact, this weekend's edition of Siskel & Ebert contains a review of the new movie, "The Paper" and features a little debate about the stereotypical "b***h-on-wheels" female boss role played by Meryl Streep. The debate was whether such women exist. The answer, my answer: yes, emphatically, and they are even encouraged to exist by company management, just as such men are encouraged.

The interesting thing about the article, besides my interest in being anointed a "woman" is that it indicates that companies are being seriously affected by the increasing numbers of women in the management and executive levels of their workforces, and these impacts are for the better (at least that's the author's viewpoint). One interesting point is how many women are direct beneficiaries of affirmative action laws and programs, and how the anti-AA debate never seems to mention that fact even though most jobs being lost by white men to the AA tide are being taken not by minority men or women, but by white women.

BTW, "male" style was defined as "risk aversion, comfort with hierarchy, following chain of command, communicating with people only in your immediate area". Furthermore, "In the new workplace, the winners are the outsiders: women and members of minority groups, teachers and networkers. The losers are the control freaks, the rigid personalities and the hoarders of information."

Remember now, I'm a white woman.

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Meanderings 1.01 -- March 20, 1994