OR – Should they have a role at all?
I‘ve never felt discriminated at work in any tangible way, because I am a woman. No one has ever denied me a promotion on account of my gender. I don’t think the pay varies in my industry. Even on less obvious things, for e.g. allotment to a project, I’ve never felt gender has mattered to my career. This could partly be because I work in an industry where the presence of women, and high-ranking women at that, is no longer anything to be commented upon. Media, Market Research, Branding – all the industries I’ve been associated with, employ a good percentage of women, to the point where there is no longer any question of having to prove yourself specifically on account of being a woman.Still, there are times, when I notice gender quietly rearing its head and making its presence felt at the workplace. This is not so much to do with my organisation or how it works, but simply because while men are much more comfortable with women at the workplace, perhaps their ways of dealing with women in their personal lives has still not completely changed. (Note – some men, not all). Naturally this flows over into the workplace.
For example, in one of the companies I used to work in, I noticed that my divisional head had this tendency to automatically assume that some of the men had more work experience, or were more qualified. This didn’t directly affect us at evaluation, because there were some processes to see that through. But he seemed to suffer from a “little woman” syndrome, where he tended to see many of the women as a little more ‘delicate’, ‘emotional’ , ‘impulsive’ than they really were. By contrast, he was always assuming that men with roughly the same kind of experiences were more ‘hardy’, ‘practical’, ‘older’ and so on. It used to annoy me no end, since there was nothing very directly implied, yet somewhere in the background, I used to have a sneaking suspicion; If his inherent impression of these men was as hardy breadwinners who would therefore be that much more involved with their jobs, he could be thinking of me and other women, as little people who were doing a decent job, and so, deserved to be treated ‘nicely’, but not really to be considered pillars of the organisation. I could have been wrong – since he was never explicit about it, but I felt that he did bring in his inherent biases about the roles of men and women into the job.
Then, there so many small ways in which some men betray these biases and make you cringe, without even realising that there is anything unprofessional about what they are doing; The other day, we had a colleague’s birthday party being celeberated at office. Once the mandatory song and clapping routine was done with, the birthday boy proceeded to cut the cake, displaying his ‘natural’ helplessness in the face of something as complicated as, well, cutting cake. One of my colleagues had a brainwave, “Hey, step aside na, let the ladies do it!” Excuse me! My role here is as a consultant, in no way different from what your role is. I am not sure why you think being a woman makes me automatically qualified to cut and serve. Ofcourse, my outspoken self was not content with thinking all this and blurted out instead, “Thats so sexist!” whereupon the fellow proceeded to pretend to sink into the earth and not hear.
What surprises me is that some young men don’t seem to be aware of how unprofessional this sort of thing is. We are becoming politically correct in so many other areas, some would say too much so. Maybe it will be a long time before these men start considering the women in their lives as true equals, or as people in their own right, without pre-assigned gender roles. But still, I can’t wait so long – In the meanwhile, one hopes they learn some political correctness atleast and keep it out of the office.