Getting on with Men
Work situations involving rivalry with men sometimes occur. With so many positions open to women today, however, rivalry situations between men and women are relatively infrequent and women usually avoid them whenever possible. But during times of economic depression, when jobs are scarce, workers must compete for employment and in some situations men and women compete with each other for the chance to work. In the economic depression which preceded the Second World War the competition between men and women for a certain type of executive position was keen and so many women executives were replaced by men that leaders of women's organization were concerned that all of the occupational adyance of the previous decades would be lost. On the other hand, men were released from some positions and women were hired at a lower rate of pay to replace them. Women on the whole seem to have been more successful in getting and holding work during this crisis than men were, if unemployment rates are considered as an index.
The type of rivalry situation which occurs, as well as the outcome, depends upon the general work situation involved. If a man is attempting to make his way in a field of work predominantly feminine he may experience hardship and defeat. Men who feel able to compete with other men will not usually attempt to compete with women on their own grounds but some men whose tenure of work in masculine employments seems uncertain may imagine that they would do better if they were competing with women.
One such case was described by a woman professor who cooperated in this study. This woman was head of a department in a girl's college whose teaching staff was composed almost entirely of women. Complaint from parents and from members of the board of trustees that the atmosphere of the school was too feminine brought the request that future vacancies on the teaching staff be filled by men professors. For the pitiful sum with which that wealthy and famous institution rewards its teaching staff it was difficult to obtain the services of a man professor and the search was long. At long last, however, a man was found who could meet the minimum requirements for the teaching staff and who could be obtained for the maximum salary which that institution allows. The teaching schedule was hastily rearranged to meet his wishes and the school year began with' a department staff of six women and one man. In a few weeks trouble began. The man, who was inexperienced in teaching, had trouble with his classes; the girl students laughed and teased and would not listen to his lectures. Staff troubles arose also because the man professor, young and inexperienced though he was, wished to impose his will upon the department head and upon other members of the staff who were his seniors both in experience and in rank. Concessions which had never been made to any woman professor were made to him in order to make his position tenable for him. But after one semester of the experience he left in a burst of rage and profanity, declaring that no man could endure the situation of working with so many women. And he seems to have been right, for other men who have followed him in that position have remained for only brief periods and their life on this predominantly feminine campus appears to have been unhappy.
But this situation is obviously exceptional. Only a few occupations such as nursing, teaching, social work, and domestic service have a predominance of women. In organizations in which both men and women are employed the executives are usually men. The majority of men are not willing to work under the direction of a woman and situations which require it are rare. But some men are apparently able to accept work direction from a woman because they are able to regard the work situation with detachment.
Some social agencies with a staff composed of both men and women have women executives and harmonious working relations seem to prevail. Some men are able to recognize the advantages which the ability and experience of a woman executive may bring to an organization and so are willing to accept her leadership. Others, however, are unwilling to do so, and a woman executive who has a staff composed of both men and women needs to possess an ability far superior to that which a man would need in that same position.
Large numbers of women work in organizations in which the staff is composed of both men and women and in which the executives are men. Rivalry situations seldom arise, however, because some phases of work are regarded by common consent as women's work and other phases as men's work. These divisions are based both upon ability and aptitude and upon custom. In many cases women's work supplements that of men and a situation is developed which makes for the fullest use of complementary abilities. Few women aspire to first place in these organizations not only because they know that such an ambition is fruitless but because they know that the position would not be worth the cost. Because so many factors in the work situation are unfavorable to her a woman has to be better and to fight harder than a man to obtain a top position in an organization in which both men and women are employed. If the position is one not usually occupied by a woman she will be conspicuous in that position and subject to an undue amount of attention and criticism. These factors may make her uncertain and unhappy and actually hinder her performance. The average woman is aware of these hazards and she prefers to be an able assistant to a man executive rather than an uneasy and faltering executive in her own right. As an assistant she may have an opportunity to become acquainted with the entire working of an organization and even to exert a certain influence on its policy without assuming the full burden of responsibility. Men, on the other hand, seem to function at their highest efficiency when they are seconded by able assistants whom they can trust, and the demand for able women as executive assistants seem to exceed the supply. For many men prefer women to men as their executive assistants because women are less likely to be rivals for the chief place and they are less likely to push themselves forward than other men. Some women even possess a "passion for anonymity."
When men and women do the same work in an organization a situation causing complaint may sometimes arise. It is still not uncommon for women who do the same work as men to receive a lower rate of pay. A woman bank clerk whom we saw in the course of this study complained that she received $125 a month for performing the same work as a man associate who received $175 a month. The question of dependents was not considered for the man was unmarried and had no dependents while the woman was responsible for the support of her mother. A woman professor complained of the system of family allowances which prevailed in a woman's college and which allowed $1000 a year to a married man for the support of his wife in addition to his basic salary while the woman professor who received the same basic salary received no supplemental allowance for the support of her mother who was dependent upon her. A woman who was an assistant executive in a national social work agency at a salary of $3000 a year complained that she was doing the same work as the man who preceded her in the position and who received a salary of $5000 a year.
Many aspects of this "equal pay for equal work" situation could be remedied by organization if women had the inclination or capacity for it. At present, however, clerical and professional workers continue to meet the situation as individuals except in cases where they form part of organizations composed of both men and women. It is this latter type of organization which promises most for the future for "equal pay for equal work" as a protection to men workers as well as women workers and they are fully cognizant of this fact.
Some factors in the income-tax situation are also unfair to the single woman who has dependents. For she is not allowed a deduction as "head of the family" unless those who are dependent upon her are living under the same roof with her. In many cases she is the sole support of aged parents or other dependents who have remained at home on the farm or in the old home town when she was obliged to seek employment in the city. Because of the high cost of living and the prevailing low rates of women's pay she is not able to bring her dependents to the city with her, if indeed they would care to come. And since her dependents are usually aged persons they may prefer to remain at home where they can live more comfortably and more economically than they could if they were to move to the city. On the other hand, a man is more likely to have his dependents living under the same roof with him since his dependents are usually his wife and children. But the rule governing deductions for dependents takes no account of this situation which works hardship to so many single women.
Some women complain that in working with men the more obvious personal qualities such as youth, beauty and charm exert more influence on pay and advancement than ability or length of service. Holly-wood has popularized the idea over a period of decades, and the practice of a few men would seem to confirm the supposition. Observation shows, however, that these men are exceptions to the rule. The business man who chooses the beautiful girl to be his secretary, even though she has never had a course in secrethelvetica work, exists more often on the screen than he does in the business world. For the man in business faces severe competition and he needs and must have competent assistance whether she be beautiful or not. If there is choice between two competent girls he will usually choose the younger and more beautiful of the two but this is not always the case. Girls of unusual beauty sometimes find this quality a deterrent in securing a position for their beauty may serve as a distraction rather than an aid in some work situations. There is no doubt that men value beauty in women but many men prefer not to associate with great beauty in business hours; they prefer to associate that quality with family and social life. But the average man detests a slovenly appearance in any situation and a failure to reckon with this fact may serve as a handicap to some women in securing work and in keeping it.
Unusual ability and unusual competence are qualities which still possess market value. One woman, included in this study, had passed from one highly paid research position to another over a period of twenty years with scarcely a break in employment. Men executives vied with each other for her services and took a personal interest in securing other work opportunities for her when her service for them had been completed. Yet this woman who was approaching fifty could hardly have found anyone to call her beautiful. She was invariably neat in appearance but she was homely to a marked degree. But men liked her and valued her services highly. They spoke of her ability and competence and industry, of her unfailing good nature, of her "sanity," of her loyalty and trustworthiness and of many other personal qualities which made her valuable. Her lack of personal beauty and the more obvious qualities of charm had been no handicap to her.
It is true, however, that some older women find it difficult to secure employment but so do older men. Factors associated with diminished strength, and speed, and adaptability may constitute a work handicap with which employment offices in some fields are not prepared to deal. The situation is due partly to general and social conditions, and measures of a general and social nature are required to meet it. The individual cannot alter the speed of industry or slow down the march of progress to his own faltering pace. But the general welfare would seem to require that such abilities as he does possess be utilized and that social leadership should operate in an enlightened social order to provide not merely opportunities for boon-doggling work but opportunities for the genuine utilization of abilities for the general good. Emergencies can create opportunities which make the services of older men and women definitely useful. If emergencies can do this then intelligent social planning can do it too.
But many of the personal qualities which handicap the older single woman in working with men are within her own control and she can deal with them herself if she cares to do so. An exaggerated sensitiveness on her part may make it difficult for her to operate effectively in some work situations. An over-sensitive person is afraid that she will be slighted, that she will not receive the consideration due her, or that she will be criticized unjustly. By displaying these fears she makes others unduly conscious of her; to avoid hurting her may become a business in itself; and people may therefore be glad to dispense with her services. And yet it is clear that this sensitivity would not occur if she were leading a normal, wholesome life. But such a state seems to occur because she has stunted her personal life and come to rely to too great an extent upon her work situation for satisfaction and happiness. Other factors which make her difficult for both men and women are lack of adaptability and resistance to change. These qualities appear to be less marked in the woman who works than in the woman who stays at home but they are a greater handicap to the work situation than they are in the home. So many mature single women have avoided the development of these unfortunate traits that it seems clear it is not only possible to do so but that it is the rule.
It is sometimes assumed that women prefer working with men to working with other women. Some of them do. Men are less nervous than women and they have larger reserves of calm and repose. A man's point of view is often broader and more tolerant than a woman's because of his greater opportunities for observation and experience. Men often lack that pettiness which women ignore in themselves and abhor in other women. It may be easier to work with a man because rivalry situations less seldom develop than when two women are working together. Some men are inclined to reward with generosity any special services which are rendered to them, although this is by no means always the case. Some men who discover unusual ability in a woman employee will go to some pains to procure unusual employment opportunities for her. A number of women who have been successful in their careers attributed a large measure of their success to the fact that they were "discovered" by a discerning 'employer and given opportunities for advancement. One woman stated that a former employer whom she had not seen for a period of ten years had nevertheless continued to show his interest in her career by timely advice and active assistance in securing advancement. Women employers often follow this same procedure but since their opportunities to render service is less than men's in some fields their efforts to be of assistance are less effective.
Some women, however, prefer working with other women. Professional relations are well defined in some fields of employment in which large numbers of women are employed and women cease to fear pettiness from each other. Then, too, women who are accustomed to working with other women develop attitudes of tolerance and understanding which are usually considered masculine in nature. Periods of training in teaching, in nursing, in social work and other fields accustom women to working with each other and. they may come to prefer it. In occupations in which women predominate there is more opportunity to secure the top positions. This is a fact which is highly prized by many women who have no opportunity to secure the top positions themselves. But to see another woman secure that position affords them a vicarious satisfaction which belies the general assumption that all women are jealous of each other's success. One school which had always had a woman as principal was thrown into an indignant turmoil when a man was appointed because the women teachers wished that position given to a woman.