Are Men Really the Bad Guys Holding Women Back?

One of my 9 Lives for Women blog readers tipped me off to an article that is a must-read for any woman engaged in or thinking about finding financial well-being through a paycheck: "Home Economics: The Link Between Work-Life Balance and Income Equality" by Stephen Marche.

There are many interesting discussion points in this article about gender roles in marriages and families: how the higher spousal income can determine parenting responsibilities; how the real impediment to "work-life balance" is affordable child care and more... but what drew me into his article the most is Marche's assertion that men are not overtly the bad guys when it comes to women getting ahead in business. He talks about "a hollow patriarchy: the edifice is patriarchal, while the majority of its occupants approach egalitarianism."

Though my expertise does not extend to social research, my sense is that, for the most part, there is indeed a hollow patriarchyn -- a holdover from another time. I have to believe that most men, in 2013, do not have a problem advancing the contributions and careers of their wives, their daughters or other women.

People who actually do the research support my view. Marche notes:

In 2009, Pew reported that 54% of men with kids younger than 17 believed that young children should have a mother who didn't work. Just four years later, that number has dropped to 37%.

Although stay-at-home dads are still very much in the minority, their numbers have doubled in just a decade's time. (This suggests that more and more men are ok when their wives are the major breadwinners.)

Add in the fact, as Marche reported: "Of the 15 fastest-growing job categories in the United States, 13 are dominated by women." (Who I can only assume work with the blessing of their husbands.)

And then there is the Gallup 2013 Work and Education survey I read about in a Human Resources Executive online article, ("Women Don't Feel Held Back at Work") that shows a vast majority of women, 85%, say, "No, [I] have not," when asked "Have you ever felt you were passed over for a promotion or opportunity at work because of your gender, or not?"

Despite this statistic, no one can argue that the top of corporations still resemble old boy's clubs, and Marche also reminds readers that the female board membership rate is at only 12%. But is this all because:

A) Men are barricading the doors to the C-suite?

B) Women move forward with trepidation, expecting gender discrimination -- that is perhaps imposed only by a minority of unevolved men stuck in the year 1952?

C) Even the most successful women suffer from a lack of confidence and the "imposter syndrome" as described in Mary Kopcynski's great article, "Don't Just Lean In, Speak Up"?

D) Men and women share responsibility for weak gender communication and collaboration in the workplace (the premise for the new book, Work With Me: The 8 Blind Spots Between Men and Women in Business, written by the author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.)

I'm going with "C" and "D" because I just don't buy "B," the widespread discrimination theory. In my view, the corporate patriarchy is indeed hollow because I believe most men (except some in the "1%" who have overpowering incomes and egos) do support the idea of a working woman.

Why wouldn't they?

After investing as much as $250,000 in tuition, why would fathers watch proudly as their daughters graduate from college, and then expect them only to work for a year or two before exiting the workforce to raise a family?

Why would these same fathers feel that their daughters are not entitled, through hard work and accomplishment, to an equal opportunity of building a lucrative and rewarding career?

Why would the vast majority of husbands who have experienced economic downturns -- those who have suffered their own job loss or watched others struggle with unemployment -- discourage wives who want to work and believe that only one income is a wise long-term financial strategy?

Where are the men who feel that any company is justified to pay a young daughter less than her male counterpart for an entry-level job?

Which men think it's OK for their well-qualified wives to be passed over for a promotion or a raise because she's not one of the guys?

No, I don't think the vast majority of men are willingly standing in the way of women in the work world. I do think, as Marche says so insightfully: "Today, men and women are not facing off on a battleground so much as stuck together in a maze of contradictions."

In that maze of contradictions, I believe women are held back by the misperception that they are not welcomed or valued by male colleagues (read Sylvia Ann Hewlett's new book to see how so many successful women have male sponsors) -- and by the universal lack of understanding about gender differences, complementary work styles and diversity. Women share in the responsibility to collectively move their gender ahead-there can't be a wholesale blaming of men for sputters and stalls.

The reality is that the patriarchs and the matriarchs will share power and advance in step when more men and women learn how to push the right relationship-building buttons, recognize complementary strengths, generally respect each other's differences and learn the value of helping each other succeed.

This post was originally published on Kathryn Sollmann's blog, 9 Lives for Women, where she helps women navigate 9 stages of work and life from college through retirement years. Follow her practical advice on "Finding the Work that Fits Your Life".

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.