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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


In 2004, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, and others chronicled and created controversy over an observed trend among senior level women to leave their hard-won corporate positions. The debate centered on whether women were leaving their jobs to stay home and have babies. In the summer of 2004, research from the Catalyst organization found that quite the contrary was true. Women wanted the CEO job as much as their male counterparts. When they left their companies, it was to find a better corporate culture conducive to the realization of their ambitions. What are the problems with corporate culture that make women leave despite their success? Apparently, there are several unfortunate and persistent issues that have been documented consistently this past year. The Status of Women in the States Report (November 04) concluded that women still earn 76 cents for every dollar males earn and that of the total number of 535 Congressional representatives, only 79 of them are women. Statistics like these highlight the fact that despite improvements, women have a long way to go to achieve parity in the workplace. Many senior women see the writing on the wall in their companies and not wanting to chance waiting any longer for equality, opt for more promising opportunities. Wall Street businesses provided further setbacks for women as independent lawsuits and EEOC filings on behalf of women in the workplace rose substantially over the past few years. UBS, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney were among those organizations who lost significant discrimination suits. According to the Securities Industry Association although half of all people in that industry are women, over 70% of the exempt workers, including bankers, brokers, salesmen and traders are white males. In 1995, the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission cited the entrenched prejudices and stereotypes of white men as the major deterrent to minority advancement in the workplace. In 2005, is this still the case? It appears to be so in the United States and elsewhere. A joint study by Catalyst and the Conference Board Europe found that the obstacles that impede womens success in business do not differ significantly by country or culture. Stereotypes about womens roles and abilities was listed as the main barrier to womens success in business as similarly cited in studies of U.S. women. Several organizations have sponsored global research studies that detail similarities and differences in executive womens experience of work and advancement by country. The differences are important in understanding cultural issues and in achieving solutions but they are surpassed by the similarities in womens frustrations and disappointments. Some of the dilemmas women face in the workplace and as a result in their personal lives have been discussed in several books and articles such as in Harvard Business Review. Diversity departments in corporations are studying their own employees and attempting to come up with theories to create action plans to ensure womens success and to encourage them to remain. My work has focused on two fronts: 1) womens internal and external barriers to success and the intersection of these obstacles: 2) corporate steps and missteps to create gender friendly environments. The theories that inform my psychoanalytic foundation come from many disciplines of study and include Chodorow, Miller, Fels, Gilligan, and in particular the analysts Person, Applegarth, and Bernardez (see attached Bibliography). The limitations we must confront as analysts in assisting women and the organizations they work for come from the following: 1) Psychoanalysis needs to become more collaborative with other disciplines to appropriately address, investigate, and contribute to solutions in this area; 2) The continuing biases vs. women inherent in analytic theory limit our thinking: 3) Power as a central concept in the issue of women and lack of equality in the workplace has been neglected as a separate concept in general within psychoanalysis. (See Persons brilliant discussion of this in Feeling Strong) The challenges for us include: 1) How can we help women achieve their goals? How can we enhance their understanding of their own brand of power and ambition? How can we help them explore their ambivalence about success, the conflicts they must face between personal and professional aspirations and responsibilities, and their feelings of anger that can sometimes cause them to self-sabotage? 2) How can we guide corporate clients in creating workplaces that can stimulate and advance female executives? How can we assist with reactions and resistances to changes that corporations must make to hold onto female talent? In this presentation, I will describe a consulting project that focused on conflict, anger, and power in senior level women and I will also present supporting examples from coaching assignments with executive women. Other topics highlighted will be corporate diversity policies and relationships of executive women with other women in their companies. The presentation will then seek to become an open discussion with attendees about their experiences working with women in their cultures. Many members have contacted me and are willing to share their perspectives. The hope is to begin a dialogue among ISPSO members which can help clarify the experience of women at work globally and to create an ongoing analytic contribution to this important organizational challenge.