Have you ever wondered why most women don’t speak much during work meetings, when there’s a lot of men in the same room?
Have you already realized this really happens?
Yeah, it happens very often in male-dominated work environments and the reason might not be so obvious – or even perceived.
In your next meeting, try to observe what happens when women talk and compare it to when men talk.
- Are they more interrupted than men?
- Are they treated as less capable or less competent?
- Are they less likely to be credited for an idea they have because men start to jump in and give their own idealization for that idea?
- Do men use stronger voice to impose power?
— By the way, have you noticed this behaviour in the latest US elections debates? If not, you should watch them again. Not only the repeated interruptions, but also the face expressions are very disrespectful. Not to mention the things he has been saying for and about women lately.
In fact, it happens every time, everywhere, including in companies that reinforce the diversity and inclusion paradigms and they really affect women’s performance. I just realized most of those things happened to me and other colleagues in my previous jobs after reading about it. At this point, things started to make sense: I didn’t know why I felt constantly frustrated and stressed and why I had the weird sensation I would never be successful in my career.
Actually, the Women in the Workplace 2016 report demonstrates women are indeed less likely to get promoted to manager and get opportunities to accelerate their career.
The signs of subtle discrimination
Much has already been done to promote more equal workplaces, including in-company training sessions and informational programs that create awareness of how mixed team can outperform. However, discrimination at work goes much beyond the unequal wage, career gaps, female misrepresentation within executive positions and sexual harassment.
(Source: Report Women in the Workplace 2016)
There are some subtle attitudes suffered daily, that might end up in frustration, anxiety, stress and depression at work, but they’re very difficult to prove. For example:
- In meetings, women are more constantly interrupted when they’re speaking.
- When women come with new ideas, it’s common to have a man to jump into conversation and start giving his point of view, not letting the woman to finish her pitch.
- Then, men are more likely to be credited for that idea.
- There’s a pre-assumption that women are less competent than men in a certain task or have less knowledge than them (a.k.a. mansplaining).
- It’s expected for women to do the “housework” activities, as stated by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in Madam CEO, Get me a coffee
- When women complain, they are usually backlashed and seen as rude, aggressive, selfish or, even worse, as crazy, paranoid, “feminazi”. Besides, they lose competence points in their evaluation.
- Their leadership is questioned more often.
- They usually need to work harder and demonstrate more skills than men to be eligible to a promotion.
- Men are rewarded for being parents, while women are punished for being moms.
- Women are more likely to be judged for their behaviour, appearance and dress code than men.
Example of mansplaining (Source: mashable.com)
Once, I heard from a male manager that if I wanted to grow up in my career, that I should be more sexy. WHAT? :-O
Offensive compliments (or, microaggressions)
Sometimes, we receive some compliments and don’t realize how offensive they are. Even more because usually there’s a good intention behind them, they don’t mean to be offensive.
- “You’re really good at [insert skill typically associated to men] for a woman! “
- “You’re not like most other women at the office because [insert random quality you possess/don’t have they think is different from all other women].”
- “Wow, I can’t believe you were able to lift that on your own!
- “Could you bake cookies for the party this week?”
Women of colour
First of all, I must say I don’t like this term to refer to Black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian. First, because they are in a must higher number than White people; second, because White is also a colour. Thus, when I hear this expression it sounds like White people are “special”, they have superpowers, they are not as ordinary as “people of colour”.
Anyway…. the disparities are even worse for non-white women. In United States, according to a AAUW study, while the wage gap between a white woman and a man in same position is usually 20%, the non-white women gaps might reach 46%.
(Source: Gospel Mais)
As you may know, I’m from Brazil. There, someone’s appearance has a huge impact on how s/he is perceived, and for women it’s even worse. The Brazilian society usually grants more benefits to a woman that looks better than others. This mindset creates an unconscious behaviour among us which perceives the other women as enemies who want to invade their territory — just like in the animal kingdom, but usually seen in male behaviours.
Women need to realize that acting like that just reinforces men’s attitudes. The best way to fight against gender discrimination is combining women’s strengths, just like they did at the White House in order to be listened by their male co-workers, supporting each other during meetings. In the end, this not only made men listen to them more, but also helped to increase the number of female workers there.
Putting men in the loop
I have already worked in two American multinational companies that had very strong diversity programs for all kinds of people: women, men, black, white, lgbt, pwd, , different religions, people with tattoos, piercings, etc.
Once, I decided to join a Women’s group and I must say I got a bit disappointed: it was simply some women discussing the same old issues about being a professional woman within a male workplace.
When one of these “women’s meetings” took place, I heard a man saying: “today is the girls club meeting to plan how they will dominate man”. And indeed, many men think women want to take their places, while it’s totally the opposite, and I concluded that this happens because men are not joining the conversation! OMG, this is so obvious!
I know many men support women’s cause, but sometimes they just don’t know how to fight against the inequalities, or they don’t know their attitudes might be reinforcing the old status quo.
Leading by example
According to the article How men and women see gender equality differently, each part sees the issue in different ways. While for men the workplace has been improved, for women it seems there hasn’t been much improvement in the past few years.
I see some companies offer training courses for women leaders to deal with men and sexist behaviours. However, I have never seen training courses for men leaders to deal with women. Leaders are the role models to promote changes. Leading by example is the best way to fight against sexism at work. But how can they do that if their mindset doesn’t change? If they can’t be empathetic to understand when women are not comfortable? Things are starting to change and the HeForShe is a great example of how men engagement in this cause is an important way to fill the gaps. If you are a man, why not take part in this discussion?
Have you already experienced any kind of discrimination (subtle or not) or microagressions? How do you deal with them? If you are a man, what do you usually do to ensure women feel more comfortable at the workplace?