Please Join Us!
When: Friday, June 22 @ 1pm EDT (5pm GMT / 10:30pm IST)
Topic: Tackling Sexism at Work
Anyone who calls you “little lady” has already excluded you from the set of people worth listening to.
– Neil Gaiman, British author (1960- )
The Event That Opened My Eyes
Two years ago, I was asked by an association for professional trainers and facilitators to speak about the challenges I had experienced as a female training professional.
I racked my brains for an example of a time or incident where I felt that I was treated differently or discriminated against because I’m a woman.
At first, I couldn’t really remember anything, although I could give plenty examples outside the workplace (and some of those made my blood boil). Maybe it’s because of the market I work in. Maybe I hadn’t picked up on occasions when I had been treated unequally.
I also felt a little under-qualified to talk about the challenges female trainers face, because I didn’t face some of typical challenges other women might have to deal with.
Also, I don’t have children, and my husband often works abroad, so I only have myself to look after. I don’t have any of the health or family carer issues faced by many working women.
“It’s Just a Joke”
So, I decided to collect the opinions and experiences of other women in my line of work. I asked this question on social media: “What are some of the challenges you experience as a female training professional?”
Here are some of the responses I got, and that I used in my speech:
- I don’t get paid the same as a male counterpart.
- When double heading with a man, participants assume that the man is the lead face.
- Are men also called “darl,” “doll” and “darling,” or named by their hair color?
- When working with a male audience, they test my credibility.
- Men make jokes about easy women and easy sex; they call women’s bodies “racks” and talk about our “eyes” when they mean something else. What do they think we are? And men reading this will probably think, “She’s oversensitive. It’s just a joke.”
- Being a woman is one thing, being black and a woman is quite another.
- Alpha males feeling threatened and wanting to dominate you into submission.
- Gender and race are not concepts that society has transcended yet.
I was the first speaker and scheduled to deliver my speech right after the opening address. Would you believe what happened?
During his opening remarks, the chairperson told an off-color joke about a “loose woman” and some of her “assets.” Most of the men in the audience seemed to think it was hilarious. To make it worse, the deputy chairperson (also a man) chirped a sexist comment from his seat in the audience.
I was in disbelief. Had I heard right? Had the chairperson told a sexist, dirty joke to open an event to promote the equal treatment of women? I felt humiliated and disrespected, and I saw that some of my female participants were just as shocked.
The way I saw the sexism in the workplace when I stood up to speak, was different from the way I saw it when I walked in the door.
I had just experienced first hand how “professional” men, who loudly proclaimed their commitment to equality, didn’t even realize that the way they spoke about women demonstrated blatant sexism.
Silence fell upon the room as I started by saying, “What bothers me isn’t how men speak to me, but how they speak about women – whether we’re present or not.”
You could have heard a pin drop as I shared with the audience the responses I got from women in our industry .
During the networking event afterwards, the chairperson and his deputy actively avoided me. At one point though, when the chairperson turned around I was standing right behind him.
Facing him directly I asked, “Didn’t you have anything more meaningful to open the meeting with, or did you choose not to use something more meaningful?” He’s a learned man, and both of us knew the answer. It was a choice. After all, it was only a joke, right?
Tackling Sexism at Work
The chairperson was misguided and wrong in this instance, but I also consider him a generally good guy. He grew up in, worked in, and was part of a patriarchal society for so long that he didn’t realize how deeply ingrained his sexist attitude was. Unfortunately, his behavior didn’t stand out, because sexism and patriarchy in my part of the world are systemic and, sadly, acceptable.
We just polled our Twitter followers about which form of sexism they’ve experienced or observed most often in the workplace. More insidious forms of sexism ranked highest. More than 40 percent of participants voted for “old boys’ club” systems, while only eight percent chose “explicit discrimination.” (Click here to view all the options and the results.)
In our #MTtalk Twitter chat this week, we’re going to talk about tackling sexism at work. We’d love you to participate in the chat, and the following questions may spark some thoughts in preparation for it:
- What does sexism look like?
- Why does sexism matter?
- How do experiences of sexism differ between genders, ethnicities, ages, and levels of seniority, and what impact does this have day to day?
- What can you do if policies and values that talk about tackling sexism aren’t followed through to action?
- How do you manage a team whose values and beliefs about sexism differ widely?
- What behaviors could leaders model to their team members, to help to eliminate sexism?
To help you to prepare for the chat, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to browse.
How to Join
Follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the action this Friday! We’ll be tweeting out 10 questions during our hour-long chat.
To participate in the chat, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. You can join the chat by using the hashtag #MTtalk in your responses.