The Intimidation Factor

Tuesday night, I was perusing my Twitter stream and I started casually following Talent Culture’s #TChat. The dialogue was entertaining but things really got fired up when someone mentioned HR getting a “seat at the table.”  

This phrase reminds me of my whining tween daughter pleading to escape the kid’s table and eat with the adults. Yet, I realize that interpretation may not be fair. Many HR organizations are under-appreciated and under-leveraged. Good people want to have as big an impact as they possibly can and HR folks battle some difficult stereotypes in having that impact. But what if there is something else at play? For some reason, Tuesday night, I had a new thought as I followed the chat.

Could it be that HR doesn’t have a seat at the table because women intimidate men?

As the supposed stronger sex, most of us would never admit that we feel threatened by a woman. Take the small dust-up a couple of months ago when Jennifer Wright posted an article at the Gloss, a site for the modern women, entitled, Smart Men Tell Us Why They Date Dumb Women. After reading an article in the New York Times about changing gender roles, Ms. Wright interviewed nine male friends to get their perspective on dating smart/successful women. These “alpha” males provided Ms. Wright with mostly self-serving explanations for their “preference.” Reading between the lines, the group feared abdicating control in the relationship. They appeared to be intimidated by accomplished women.

Who are they going to date? Women are more accomplished than ever. Today, females represent half our workforce. Census numbers released recently show that women now exceed men in gaining both bachelor and advanced degrees. Dumb women? Additionally, women-owned businesses contribute close to $3 trillion to the U.S. GDP, according to the Small Business Association. Yet, rather than embracing the positive strides these statistics represent, men are intent on keeping the male power structure in place.

Will there ever be a truce in the battle of the sexes? I recognize that we focus on the statistics above to celebrate women’s progress in a male-domineering culture, but it would be nice to end the fight over who is wearing the pants. Hell, I was recently surprised to find that there is an ongoing argument about which sex is funnier. Initiating the debate, men such as Jerry Lewis, John Belushi and, most notably, Christopher Hitchens, in a Vanity Fair article, claimed that women aren’t funny. Are these guys just pot-stirrers, keen-eyed social observers or another example of males attempting to maintain their superior status and revealing their unease with, what one author calls, the “Age of Female Empowerment?” None of these explanations would justify the attack, but if the latter one is most prominent, it may explain HR’s absence from the table.

Only 11 women hold CEO spots in America’s 500 largest companies. With men still ruling the executive suite and women employed in approximately 80% of HR positions, may HR still not truly have an equal “seat at the table” because women intimidate men? If men are insecure about entering into personal relationships with smart, accomplished women as various studies have concluded, will they not carry that insecurity into the workplace?

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Shaun Emerson

Shaun Emerson is a Partner at Tutto Persona. After 12 years with big companies, he has spent the last 11 years indulging his entrepreneurial spirit by starting two companies and running both a venture-backed and privately funded company. Shaun resides in Glen Ellyn, IL with his wife, a woman in HR, and his three kids. He blogs at Tutto Persona and you can connect with Shaun on Twitter as @shaunemerson and on LinkedIn.

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