So I was reading Time’s September 22, 2014 edition and came across 10 questions for Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg when I reached this absolute gem:
Why do you think women are so afraid of making mistakes?
WOW. So in the question women are defined as being afraid of making mistakes. Now I don’t know whether this comes from Charlotte Alter (the by line for the 10 questions) out of whole cloth or whether it was inspired by something Sheryl Sandberg wrote or said previously of which I’m not aware.
In my book attributing qualitative faults (like fearing making a mistake) to one sex as opposed to another is pretty much the definition of sexism. I’m not saying the sexes cannot be compared. On average men are taller than women. More women have wombs than men. Calling out objective differences of fact is not sexist in and of itself.
So the question itself as posed seems to me a pretty bad thing. Maybe we should excuse Sheryl Sandberg for her completely sexist response (as printed by Time – she should sue if they got that wrong):
“When men make mistakes, they don’t internalize it is their fault, so it doesn’t hurt them as much. Because gender makes us over-estimate male performance and underestimate female performance, we have more tolerance for men’s mistakes.”
Holy cow! Did I miss a memo? Has a study been done that men don’t internalize mistakes as their own fault as a whole gender? Even as a tendency for the gender?
But what might be worse is the illogic, at least as I see it: My tolerance for mistakes IS related to my estimation of what a person is capable of. So if I am in fact over-estimating male performance then a mistake is going to be regarded more harshly as something they should not have let happen. Under Sandberg’s apparent vision of reality, men should be more afraid of making mistakes.
So I call on all y’all to reject these sexist notions. The correct response to mistakes is some amount of disappointment relative to the individual’s capabilities, current run of overwork and personal distractions, and the difficulty of the task at hand. Often the correct response is: “Sorry I put you in that tough of a spot.”
Over the long haul you learn which individuals you can trust with what and gender should play no role, even with physical tasks, because you work with individuals, not gender averages.
Uncharacteristic mistakes are worthy of examination because you need to know whether something was an aberrant loss of focus rather than some problem, acute or chronic, that has developed. Then comes the far tougher question of whether or not any problem is your business.
But questions like Time’s and answers like Sandberg’s have no place in the workplace.