You imagine the modern woman as Plastic Woman, a heroine who performs “superhuman feats of flexibility."
Women have changed vastly over the last century in terms of how they present themselves in the public sphere. At first, women did not work, at all. Then, they didn’t work when they got married, and they didn’t work when they had kids. Women solidly broke through all those barriers. Once more, they had characters on TV that would show them how to be that person—Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown. At each phase, you had a role model.
Who then is Cardboard Man?
Cardboard Man is the man who has a hard time training himself for new jobs or is just really worried about stepping into new roles. Women have taken on traditionally masculine roles and professions, and there is no real equivalent for men. Men are still extremely reluctant, as we all are reluctant to see them, take on traditionally feminine roles or professions. That is just not something that they do easily.
How have the qualities that are valued and rewarded in the workplace changed in the last 50 years—and in ways that favor women?
When we thought of ourselves as a manufacturing economy, strength is what was required and what was important. On down the road, we had top-down, autocratic models of leadership that favor men, like a general issuing orders. Over time, we have started to value transformational modes of leadership—the idea of a leader being more like a coach and inspiring people. Men and women are equally intelligent, but separate factors, such as the abilities to focus, be collaborative and take other people’s views into account, allow you to be successful.
Of course, you acknowledge that female CEOs are still very rare, women are the minority in engineering and hard-science fields, and there is still a gender pay gap. What is it going to take for women to rise in these areas? Do you have any predictions?
Women on aggregate are making more money, because there are more of them working. But that doesn’t mean that individual woman A sitting next to man B is making more money than him. There is still a little leftover discrimination. Bob is making more money than Susie. That is the wage gap.
About that, I definitely think we are in a transition moment. You look down successive generations and you have more and more men working for female bosses. We are close to a tipping point.
This book is often misunderstood as feminist triumphalism. It really isn’t that. I think that some of the changes that are happening are good, and some are not as good. Part of what I do is try to explain what the transition looks like and what the latest research says about how you can move through this transition.