Discrimination, as it becomes less obvious, becomes a more difficult problem to root out. It becomes less about the obvious repression and more about the way past discrimination is still deeply embedded in the social fabric. We generally espouse views of equality and respect, but individual actions and views, unbeknownst to ourselves, don't align.
To start with the niceties, I do think Warren Buffett's heart is in the right place. I do think he wants women to be equally represented in the workplace. Unfortunately, you can't get equality when you lead with victim blaming.
He starts his pro-women opinion piece for Fortune magazine thusly:
"In the flood of words written recently about women and work, one related and hugely significant point seems to me to have been neglected. It has to do with America's future, about which -- here's a familiar opinion from me -- I'm an unqualified optimist. Now entertain another opinion of mine: Women are a major reason we will do so well."
Fair enough, I'm with you.
He continues on like this, generally positive about women's potential but dismayed at their current progress, knowing we'd be better off if they were better off. However, he makes a crucial shift:
"Still an obstacle remains: Too many women continue to impose limitations on themselves, talking themselves out of achieving their potential. Here, too, I have had some firsthand experience."
cue the victim blaming
But the examples don't fit the reasoning:
Among the scores of brilliant and interesting women I've known is the late Katharine Graham, long the controlling shareholder and CEO of the Washington Post Co. (WPO). Kay knew she was intelligent. But she had been brainwashed -- I don't like that word, but it's appropriate -- by her mother, husband, and who knows who else to believe that men were superior, particularly at business.
When her husband died, it was in the self-interest of some of the men around Kay to convince her that her feelings of inadequacy were justified. The pressures they put on her were torturing. Fortunately, Kay, in addition to being smart, had an inner strength. Calling on it, she managed to ignore the baritone voices urging her to turn over her heritage to them.
Even when men argue in favor of women, they can be sexist. It's a mistake to say women impose limitations on themselves, then talk about how all the men around her were convincing her to leave it to the men.
This is the same type of argument used by those who dismiss attempts to rectify workplace inequality: Women get paid less because they work fewer hours, fail to ask for raises, negotiate poorly, or take a lot of time off work for family obligations, despite the fact that the evidence suggests that, even when controlling for these variables, women still get paid less than men. What all these arguments have in common is they blame women for their position in life, rather than looking at how society as a whole, and men in particular, work to keep women from equal pay.
The other problem is that, when your problem starts with the victim blaming, your solution is patronizing.
"Fellow males, get on board: The closer America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We've seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you'll join me as an unbridled optimist about America's future."
Yes! Men! Let's lift women up, help them get jobs, pull them into the workforce!
It's not about tearing down the barriers we've erected, but helping them over those barriers. And that isn't a bad impulse.
But ultimately, even if that works out, we still have barriers, and only when those come down can we truly have an equal society.