Calling out every day sexism is tiresome but necessary
Why? Because every day sexism is still sadly rampant and shouldn’t be ignored.
I’m a bit of a stickler for political correctness. I see it as annoying, but necessary if we are to achieve any changes in both our wider cultures and workplaces. I wrote a post on this exact topic in 2013 and crossed tweets with some recruitment colleagues on Twitter for being nit picky about it. Every day sexism is important.
Why did I do it? Because it matters
At the time I was motivated by John Inverdale who ignited a furore after the women’s Wimbledon final in 2012. He suggested to an audience of millions, that because the new champion Marion Bartoli “was never going to be a looker,” tennis would have been one of her few options as a way forward. She was the one holding the trophy of course and despite some rapid back tracking, he was left with some serious egg on his face. But although he faced the B.B.C. axe, he remained in a job.
Post #MeToo the acts of every day sexism may seem trivial and insignificant in comparison. What harm is there in a comment or a bit of banter here and there some ask? However, the volume is unrelenting and the impact so debilitating and corrosive it would be dangerous to ignore it.
The power of leadership language
Unconscious bias, whether related to gender, race, appearance or age, is considered to be one of the most significant “known unknowns” in our cultures today, simply because it is so difficult to measure. One area where is it very self-evident in language usage. Our leaders, whether male or female, play a pivotal role in the gender balance and diversity policies of our organisations and wider cultures. It’s therefore important that public figures in whatever domain, lead by example.Their behaviour and language choice will be a key component in influencing public thinking and viewpoints to overcome subconscious bias which can exist in all of us.
In 2015 we had the Tim Hunt gaffes, when we saw a senior scientific academic open his mouth only to change feet. This was followed by his resignation from his position as honorary professor at University College London, after telling a conference in South Korea that it’s distracting to work alongside “girls” in laboratories because “they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.”
There was a perfectly funny outcry, as female scientists posted photos of themselves in their sexy lab outfits, with the hashtag #distractinglysexy
I was recently at a workshop with a mainly female audience on sustainable leadership where the graphics and content were strongly male coded. When leaders are presented as being men, we embed our biases even further.
Tony Robbins describes the naming of perpetrators as looking for “significance” by making someone else wrong seems to me to be skewed thinking.
Gaffes on social media
Also in 2015, you may remember an outcry and more heated debate, when 27-year-old barrister Charlotte Proudman shared a screenshot of an email message sent to her via LinkedIn, in which the male sender, a senior barrister, more than twice her age, thought it appropriate to describe her profile photo as “stunning”.
Proudman, suitably affronted, has contacted the officials in her sector – she’s said she’ll refer the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and has contacted the CEO of Silk-Carter’s firm to register a complaint. She has also taken the issue to social media and there has been the predictable furore and feeding frenzy, as all factions have laid into each other. Described as a “feminazi” she received on line abuse including death and rape threats.
Only last week Dawn Metcalfe author of Hard Talk posted on LinkedIn that she had received a photo of a man’s penis via LinkedIn mail. She blocked and reported and his profile was eventually taken down. However, in the meantime some of the comments on her post were equally smutty and sexist and definitely not funny.
Name and shame or not?
I have for some time railed against the inappropriate use of LinkedIn and only recently wrote a post. (Read: How to block and report inappropriate contact on LinkedIn.) My own strategy has been to write a direct email to the individual and then block and report if necessary. This is the text of an email I sent recently responding to a message from someone who thought he was on Match.com.
“Name: this is a professional site. I have removed you as a connection. You can be reported for this inappropriate contact.”
The discussion is now: should this type of daily sexism be named and shamed? If so is it worth it?
It’s about time this type of every day sexism is discussed in the mainstream press. It is going on all the time on LinkedIn and is long over due. For young, beautiful professionals it must be exceptionally tedious having to field this nuisance factor all the time.
At the same time, senior male professionals need to be made aware that they have to watch their language in workplace situations and act as role models. It’s a form of intimidation passing comment on a woman’s appearance especially when in a position of power and influence. It’s also a strong comment on the corporate culture of the profession.
To comment on a woman’s photo on LinkedIn is highly inappropriate.It’s too bad that he didn’t comment on Proudman’s training and expertise. Personally I prefer to deal with matters directly. But is behind the scenes firm contact enough to get rid of this type of every day sexism once and for all? Maybe not. Tiresome though it is, should we all call everything out, no matter how small, just to draw attention to the issue?
No reporting = not happening
The danger is that no reporting and no calling out = not happening in some minds. I had a conversation with a VP HR recently who told me that his organisation had only two reported cases of sexual harassment in the past 12 years. I know there were at least two other non-reported cases, because I coached the women through their trauma.
Proudman speaking with hindsight on her own experience said: “You take the ground and say, ‘I’m going to stand up to this, I am not going to allow the media to dictate this. This is not right. This is my viewpoint, and I’m going to put this forward.’”
What would you do? Take it on or shake it off?
Join the live coaching session in Brussels on May 29th on how to deal with sexism and harassment in the workplace.