The fish in the water

Feb 23, 2016 Alberto Pierpaoli Prensa, Tendencias No comments

There recently appeared a supplement of El Cronista on "Women who are doers”. And soon after, there was a note appearing in La Nación with the title "The hour of the super powerful female publicists".

Both newspaper articles suggest that there are women entrepreneurs or executives (including those in advertising agencies) that with sheer will, effort and sacrifice can reach the top. They only have to work hard and overcome difficulties. As simple as that.

There is a smack of "positive thinking" — everything is possible if you set your goal on it. They thus ignore the following facts:

  1. For equal jobs, women earn 25% less than men,
  2. or the existence of the "sticky floor" that keeps them mostly in lower positions,
  3. or "the glass ceiling" that deprives them of a fair chance to reach the highest positions.
And there is even less discussion of the macho culture that is typically present in all organizations. It is as if the patriarchal culture was "naturalized.” It is natural that this is so. It must be accepted. No discussions. “This is how the world is.”

It is the culture of the fish in the water. The fish considers it natural that life takes place in the water. It does not question it. But it doesn’t cross its mind that there can be another kind of life out of the water. So it seems logical that its life should develop in the watery medium.

Something similar happens to women. They think that within the macho world in which their lives take place they must work hard to excel. And that if they are very good this will have a positive result.

It doesn’t even cross their mind that another life is possible. That the macho world is not the only one. That there is an alternative to the macho culture they face — inclusion of cultural gender differences. In short, they lack the gender perspective.

Here is the main error. To think that the natural thing is the corporate or business world as we know it, and that another world is not possible. But yes, it is possible.

First you need to be aware of that possibility. And for this you need to be informed and you need to study. You need to know that there are at least two major gender identities (although we already know that there are many more). Once you see those big two identities, you need to recognize that each one has a different view of the world. That there is one, which has prevailed to the present day, which is the male look of the world. And that view has done everything possible, throughout the history of humanity, to ignore the other view in order to downplay and discriminate it, suggesting that there is only one hierarchy: the masculine first, and on another lower level, the feminine.

But today we know that this is not so. We know that there is another view of the world — different, but with the same value as the male — and this is the female view. A look that has different motivations, values and behavior with respect to the male view. In short, that looks at the world from another perspective: the female view.

If we don’t accept that there are two possible views of the world, everything will remain the same, both in the corporate world as well as in marketing and advertising.

In the corporate world, because boards of directors will continue to be male, as well as the top jobs, the organization culture and the worldview of the companies. If we do not begin to consider that another corporate world is possible nothing will change. We men are very comfortable in our position of dominance and we won’t hand over or share power easily. It is vital to educate organizations in gender cultural differences. This means accepting the possibility of female leaders, changing the culture of the organization, including salary equity between women and men and equal career opportunities within the organization. To achieve all this, what is most critical is to change the culture of the organizations, since, as all cultural changes, this is slow, and there is also a great resistance to change.

The same happens regarding marketing. If organizations have to change inwardly, they also have to do so outwardly, regarding female consumers. They must first recognize that the world has changed, that women have changed: they study more than men, more women graduate from college than men, and women want to have a life outside their home and share their life at home with their partners. This means moving away from the stereotypes of women as housewives and mothers, dedicated to home chores and caring for their children. It also means recognizing that women today have a great purchasing power that they apply to buying goods and services that 60 years ago was the privilege of men. Today women buy, often by themselves, apartments, cars, financial services, insurance, etc. Not to mention the cases in which they are in charge of purchases within an organization. In that case they are major buyers of innumerable goods and services. In a nutshell, since women have changed, marketing should change and stop functioning with the guidelines of 50 years ago.

Finally, let’s consider the world of advertising. Today there may be some women in the top positions in advertising and many areas of agencies. This is good, but it is no reason to boast. Because here also the fish in the water theory is naturalized. There are practically no women occupying the top decision level in creativity in agencies. The creative departments are in the hands of men who apply their male logic to the imaginary world of advertising. And in the creative departments there is a prevalence of men — 8 men for every 2 women —  because women must either adapt to the male creative world or leave. So a world of at least 40/50 years ago gets reproduced. As a consequence, in their ads they never show a woman at the steering wheel and a man in the passenger seat. Much less a man looking after the home with the woman providing the main support. Or a man cleaning something. Neither do we see single women buying an apartment. No, the imaginary world of advertising is full of stereotypes and gender biases. This is because 21st century women aren’t identified or recognized. They continue to be invisibilized. They are only seen from the male perspective.

In conclusion, we need to learn about them. There is something we don’t know, that the world needs to be seen with two different looks, female and male — different, but equally valuable. That both looks have a different way of seeing the world, and that each has its own motivations, values and behaviors.

In summary, there is another world beyond the water.

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