Business is male. Make no mistake. Everything about it smacks of the male mentality.
First, the obsession with competition. You have to be #1, you have to outcompete your competition. So hierarchy, rank, is everything. As is an adversarial attitude. It doesn’t have to be that way. Business could be a huge network of co-operative ventures, each seeking to better the whole. But no, we have to be better than, stronger than, faster than –
Bigger than. Business is obsessed with size. Mergers, acquisitions, expansion. Bigger is better. Bigger wins. The business suit has padded shoulders to make its wearer look bigger. They’re always talking about new opportunities for growth. Unlimited growth. They never talk about cancer.
Closely related to size is number. Business measures success in numbers, in quantifiable units. (And the numbers must be big.) Units manufactured, units sold, profits, paycheques. (Not customer service reps though.) It also measures value in numbers. It puts a price on beautiful views. And lives. Again, it doesn’t have to be that way. When some people say something is priceless, they mean it.
Another characteristic, derivative of the obsession with competition, is the obsession with power. Power over others. Responsibility is the flip side of power, but the only responsibility business talks about is the responsibility to shareholders – to be competitive, to be big, to produce high returns. All other responsibilities are swept under the carpet and called externalities.
And of course if you’re going to compete, you have to take risks. Business is all about taking risks. Yet again, it doesn’t have to be that way. Safe is good. The system could be set up so risk isn’t required. (Actually, as it is, it isn’t – if you’re big enough. Bail-out.)
And it almost goes without saying that, given competition, the emphasis is on the self. Business is egotistic. One collaborates only in order to compete, to win. Communalism and socialism are dirty words. Altruism is simply denied.
And perhaps the most dangerous: women are devalued. Half the species just doesn’t count, as far as business is concerned. 80% of male city finance workers visit strip clubs for ‘corporate entertainment’ (“On Bankers and Lap Dancers” M. Lynn, International Herald Tribune Jan12/06).
This is why men go into business. It has what they are. It’s also why business is male. They are it. It’s a vicious circle.
That’s why we’re never going to change business, we’re never going to stop its crippling effect on the quality of our lives. We’d have to stop making men first. (We could, you know. We could make just people instead.)