“When you really think you should be a little torn.” – Nina Totenberg
It’s time to pull out your “I Like Ludwig” t-shirt.
That’s Ludwig as in Wittgenstein, the influential philosopher who pointed out that most sets can’t be unambiguously defined solely through well-defined rules.
Games are an example. There is no list of attributes that accurately classifies solitaire, tennis, football, Dungeons and Dragons, and office politics as games, even though we all know that’s what they are.
Not convinced? (1) Many games are contests against an opponent, but not when you’re playing FreeCell. (2) Many games are played by teams. Not tennis, though. Or FreeCell. (3) Most games have winners and losers. Dungeons and Dragons does not.
As for office politics, like all politics it has game-like characteristics such as having winners and losers. But most games are played for fun. In this day and age there’s little that’s fun about politics of any kind.
Gender classifications – an increasingly contentious issue all working managers must deal with – face the same Wittgensteinian challenge. We each maintain in our subconscious a list of physical and behavioral characteristics we think of as masculine (e.g. hairiness), a different list we think of as feminine (e.g. a higher-pitched voice), and a bunch more that are gender-neutral, for example liking or disliking borscht.
Your feminine/masculine lists and mine probably differ, which is why you and I might find ourselves disagreeing as to your gender, mine, someone else’s, and SNL’s legendary “Androgynous Pat.”
Which leads me to conclude that as a society, and in our HR policies, we’re finding ourselves arguing about the answer to a question that doesn’t have one.
Of more direct relevance to you as a KJR subscriber, we’re expending quite a lot of time and energy on how to deal with gender identification in the workforce. And I’m starting to wonder what the point is.
Never mind the question of whether genes, physiology, specific behaviors, interpersonal attraction, or overall sense of personal identity should be gender’s determinant. That’s of legitimate interest to psychologists, sociologists, maybe those responsible for competitive athletics (and maybe not; it is, as mentioned, a complicated and confusing topic) … and, of course, parents, not to mention the individuals who have or are still sorting out who they are.
It’s also, as we’ve experienced over the past several years, a topic of illegitimate interest for political rabble-rousers who are more interested in scoring points than helping formulate coherent and compassionate public policy – see “politics as a game,” above.
Mercifully, it’s a question that has (I think) a relatively simple answer when the question is how to deal with gender identification in the workplace.
Which brings us to this week’s question to ponder: Why do businesses collect “Gender” as a data field in our HR databases at all? The KJR answer: It’s tradition, and one that long ago outlived its usefulness.
Even if a person’s gender is, in any meaningful way, a predictor of how they would perform in a given role, that would only be a loose correlation at best, and as anyone knows who has passed a class in statistics, statistical significance is entirely different from importance.
So imagine we simply abandoned gender as something we pay attention to in workforce management (marketing and CRM are entirely different matters). Were we to take that step, employees who want their colleagues to identify them as men or women could still choose to dress and behave like stereotypical women or men.
Those who want their colleagues to not care could also dress and behave accordingly.
And those who consider their gender to be both non-binary and something they want a colleague to be aware of could just tell them.
Presumably, nobody would ask a colleague “What gender are you?” on the grounds that the question is (1) nobody’s business, and (2) unbelievably crass.
And if they were that crass, the object of their curiosity ought to answer as follows:
Bob’s last word: I suppose ignoring religion as a dimension of all this would be copping out. And so …
There are those who consider the question of gender to have religious significance, for example the Judeo-Christian bible, which only recognizes men and women as categories. To which I have two observations.
The first is that religion has no place in management, other than a need to accommodate such religion-driven requirements as allowing time for obligatory prayer. The second: Some religions recognize more than two genders.
So unless you think business management should incorporate theology into its HR practices, it would seem that classifying employees by gender is far more trouble than it’s worth.
My legally ignorant solution: Don’t do it.
Now on CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide: “The successful CIO’s trick to mastering politics.” It’s all about relationships, not just winning and losing. Failing to embrace this fact of organizational dynamics can kill a budding manager’s career.