Q: My (female) co-founder is condescending to other women. She tends to overlook their ideas and suggestions in meetings and favour male employees. She’s also prone to giving our senior female team members menial, secretarial jobs, which are not what we hired them for. What should I do?
Jeremy says: My guess is this. Deep down, your co-founder is more than a little uneasy at finding herself a boss or, more precisely, the boss of men. Some leftover remnants of Victorian genes tell her that the reason men are taller and stronger and have deeper voices is because they were designed by God specifically to be in charge of things. Whereas the proper place for women is in their proper place. So her open favouring of men is a sort of unspoken apology to them for so upsetting the natural order. She hopes to earn their approval. (I bet much of her condescension to other women is when men are present.)
Even if this slice of amateur psychoanalysis is roughly right, it doesn’t of itself help very much. My only positive thought, though admittedly a bit indirect, is this. Identify the most sympathetic of your senior male employees and take him out for a drink. Discuss your partner’s gender bias, which he will certainly have observed. Imply that her obvious and consistent favouritism is beginning to count against all those she favours. Surely men should be happy to be judged on their merits? They shouldn’t need to be indulged or listened to with exaggerated respect. It doesn’t seem very manly.
If he seems to understand what you’re getting at, he’ll soon share it with his (male) colleagues. And, in turn, your partner will soon begin to sense that the very group she’s anxious to ingratiate herself with is beginning to resent her ingratiation. It’s certainly got a better chance of success than a stern lecture from you.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at email@example.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.