Currently, I’m taking a class here at Penn State called Leadership Jumpstart. The course isn’t in a traditional classroom setting – we meet only one Saturday a month. A lot of our Saturday meetings are devoted to presentations, guest speakers, and activities that teach us valuable lessons about being leaders. One activity we participated in this past Saturday that really stood out to me was a game called Star Power. Now, the main purpose of the game was to teach us the privileges and disadvantages people of different socioeconomic classes face, but what I noticed the most throughout this entire lesson was the polarization of the two genders throughout the majority of the game.
For those of you who don’t know what Star Power is (probably most of you; I had never even heard of it until last Saturday), the whole object of the game is to get the most amount of points. Each player has to randomly draw 5 chips out of a bag. Each chip has a different point value. To gain points, every person has to go around and bargain with their competitors to try and seal a deal. However, no one is allowed to talk unless they are making a trade, and to make a trade, the two competitors must be holding hands at all times. In addition, once these two competitors link hands to make a trade, some kind of exchange has to happen in order for the trade to end. That means in order to be able to let go of a partner’s hand, one person must benefit from the trade while the other must decide to face a penalty. At the end of each round, everyone’s total points are counted and the entire class is split into 3 sections – the “squares” were the people with the highest scores, the “triangles” were in the middle, and the “circles” were those with the lowest amount of points. Now, there were many more factors that actually went into the game, but to keep this post from turning into a five page paper, I’ll skip ahead to my main point.
By the end of the game, our class as a whole agreed that the groups had clearly split into three distinct personality types. The squares, those who were given the most power and had the most points, were very greedy and selfish. The triangles were hardworking, and the circles, the lowest of three groups, were the generous ones. Looking at the three groups (I was with the triangles), I noticed something very interesting: there was only one girl in the square group and only one guy in the circle group. The majority of the girls were circles, the majority of the guys were squares, and the triangles were somewhere in between. Granted, the guys in our class may have just gotten lucky when drawing chips the first round, but I’m still not wiling to chalk this whole incidence simply up to coincidence. The demographic of this game, with the men at the top of the food chain and the women at the bottom could not possibly offer a more accurate representation of the corporate world. What do you picture when you hear the words “big business” and “CEO”? Chances are, it’s a bunch of men in suits. Men dominate the job market in almost every single occupation and the gender pay gap is still very, very extreme.
But why is this? There are a variety of reasons, but the main one is that men are allowed to be selfish. Think about what you’ve seen, either on TV or in your past experiences. It’s not uncommon for a man to dedicate his whole life to his career. It’s considered admirable, in fact. Most men in positions of high authority are considered powerful and consequently, are highly respected for it. Now think about what you’ve seen about women in positions like these. It’s a lot less common to see a female have these high power positions, but on the off chance she does, she’s always portrayed as uptight, bossy and mean (think of Sandra Bullock in The Proposal or Miss Congeniality or The Heat. So basically, imagine Sandra Bullock in almost every movie she’s been in). The common belief is that women are supposed to be the generous ones: raising children, cooking and cleaning, and basically making everyone else’s life easier. In relationships and families, women are usually the ones who are expected to sacrifice their goals in life for the benefit of others. This is exactly what the game Star Power demonstrated: the reason most of the girls were in the circle group is because each time they made a trade, they ended up taking the penalty and giving away their chips to help the other person. Most of the times, the person receiving the benefit in those exchanges was a guy.
So I’ll leave you with this, my wonderful classmates. Next time you see something like this, like if you’re flipping through Forbes and you see that out of the hundreds of Fortune 500 CEOs, only a few are female, take the time to really notice this gender stratification, instead of dismissing it as a normal occurrence. Part of finding a solution to this gender inequality is truly acknowledging that it exists.