Category Archives: opinion

Is it latent sexism, or…?

Here’s a case where you can’t know whether the instance indicates latent sexism, even though you know the trend does.

We received an email in response to our last press release.  The press release listed our Community Manager as the contact person and attributed a quote to me, the CTO.  The email was received by a list containing me and the Community Manager.  Yet the email was addressed directly to our Chairman (we don’t have a CEO), using his name multiple times.  The Community Manager and I happen to be female and the Chairman male.

How much should I attribute to sexism and how much to a misguided desire to bypass the provided contact point and reach the top of the food chain, even though he’s called “Chairman” and not “CEO” because he only has a couple hours a week for this project?

These sorts of things happen to women in business all the time. And it’s because of the constant barrage of instances where you can’t feel comfortable calling it out (because there are other explanations of the actions) that it’s all the more important to call it out when you’re fairly sure of a sexist motivation.

#YesAllWomen and #notallmen

I haven’t really been paying a lot of attention to the #YesAllWomen thing, because I’ve experienced these things myself. I know what it’s about and I appreciate and agree with the “campaign”, if it can be called that. The #notallmen response to #YesAllWomen puts me in mind of a personal anecdote that may reveal to you why that response is missing the point (though I wouldn’t be surprised if a faction of women-supporters had made all men out to be horrible jerkwads…I’ll condone it as a response to a vicious faction). I really think that the fair-minded men should be totally on board with this campaign! We like those guys.  And there’s a fantastic way for them to participate in making their workplaces more fair-minded.

Once upon a time…

Two geeky ladies and two geeky dudes were having a friendly chat. We women had started to talk about what to wear at work, and how our clothing choices actually change coworker reactions (how much they listen to us, how much they talk down to us, etc), even when we’ve been working there for 6+ months. We’re in different professions, so while we were clicking on the commonalities, we were trying to narrow in on the differences in our personal experiences. We weren’t vehement, vicious, or bitter about any of it, just curiously considering “what makes this tick?” Thus we each shared several anecdotes or summaries about different types of situations and outfits.

The men listened to our discussion. One asked a few questions. At the end, the other man simply said “I don’t believe that.” In four words he rejected dozens of data points from two perspectives and 30 minutes of conversation. I suddenly found him far less interesting to hang out with.

Perhaps this man doesn’t treat female coworkers differently based on their attire. But apparently he is unwilling to accept data that contradict his mental model of how the world works. He definitely would not see it if someone ELSE treated female coworkers differently based on their attire. Would he be oblivious to others treating women differently simply because they are women? Maybe not, but a surprising number of men are.

How fair-minded men can help

The #YesAllWomen “campaign” is trying to make people see that this happening to all of us very frequently! And it’s important for men to realize that we’re not accusing every single man of treating us poorly because we are female; but we are accusing most of them of either not paying attention or not speaking up when others treat us poorly. It happens so often that people get used to it or just tired of it and we don’t always notice and speak up ourselves. It’s important to make the fair-minded men aware of it. Not only can they speak up in our presence and change how things work while we’re around, but some can speak up behind the scenes in meetings of all-male managers and improve how we’re treated in ways we can’t testify to directly.

Soraya Chemaly wrote a great article about a month ago about the 10 words every girl should learn:

“Stop interrupting me.”

“I just said that.”

“No explanation needed.”

Let’s turn these same phrases into ammo for the men who notice someone else (male or female) treating a woman as inferior at work.  But let’s pretend you don’t want to sound terse and unfriendly; after all, that particular instance of maltreatment may just be the speaker having a bad day.  And you want to help out without damaging your own career.

If she is interrupted, interrupt back:

“Excuse me, but I’d like to hear the rest of what she had to say before we move on.”

If someone repeats her idea later as though it is brand new:

“It sounds like you and [her name] are on the same page!”

If someone is going through an eye-rolling explanation for a woman you know to be well-informed on that point:

“Pardon me, but I know she’s well-informed in this area.  We could save some time by skipping the explanation.”