Monday, 21 August 2017

Sexism exists, especially in the workplace

A boss with an attitude problem can hamper your career and poison your whole existence. Here are ten signs your boss might be such.

Bosses are just people, and will all have their own stresses and shortcomings. But it’s not what the boss does once in six months – it’s what they do every day that counts.

A management style is often a reflection of someone’s view of the world, of themselves, and of things such as gender roles. When you have a boss whose attitude is at its core sexist, your life can become a misery.

A happy and fulfilled and well-balanced boss is unlikely to be a sexist tyrant at work. But a bitter one with an axe to grind against women will carry this into the workplace, sometimes so subtly that it is difficult to pinpoint.

These days there is a far greater awareness of the consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace than even a decade ago. That doesn’t mean it never happens, but a sexual predator in the workplace is less likely to get away with it now than in the past. Women are also more aware of their rights.

But there are the bosses (both men and women) with personality disorders, who see the workplace as a terrain to wield terror, and give free expression to their whims. And they think the women (and sometimes also the men who work under them) deserve it.

On paper, men and women doing the same job are supposed to be paid the same, but in practice this does not always happen.

Here are  some 10 things sexist bosses are likely to do.

Make overt reference to gender in the interview.

Comments such as “You know I am not allowed to ask about your plans for the future”, which can usually be interpreted as follows: “Are you going to have a baby anytime soon, and go off on maternity leave?” The more unsubtle ones will comment directly on your appearance, age and usually disguised in the form of a compliment. Believe me; I experienced this once upon a time.

Assume women are looking for stop-gap employment.

Sexist bosses will assume the women are not the main breadwinners, and are unlikely to stay long in the job, let alone make a career of it. The underlying assumption is that there is some man who will be looking after them now and in the future. Really?

Fail to really consider women for promotion.

This is the main one but sadly both female and managers are culprits.They might be on the list, but they seldom seem to get the job. It is easy to spot companies where this happens – just look at their management structures, and how the genders are represented. On paper, men and women doing the same job are supposed to be paid the same, but in practice this does not always happen. Job titles can also disguise the reality of someone’s level of responsibility.

Assume the women will do the catering and the social organising.

Unless it is part of your job description, you do not have to organise catering at staff functions, or clean up afterwards, or make things such as birthday parties or farewell parties happen if you don’t want. A sexist boss won’t even ask – he will just assume the women will do it. And he probably won’t thank them either.

Exclude women from certain workplace conversations.

Like some men, some women won’t be interested in discussing politics, sport or management strategies, but automatically excluding all women from conversations on these topics is very sexist. It is seldom done overtly, but often there is a subtle vibe of “Keep away – men talking” sent out. Sometimes this exclusion extends to other social activities organised after working hours, like going to the bar or the golf course - or, even worse, the strip club.

A sexist boss subtly creates the vibe that the real decision-making is men’s work.

Assume appearance is everything.

Most men have cottoned onto the fact that overt comments on appearance are a no-no, but even ongoing compliments can sometimes be creepy. Underlying all of this is the assumption that women’s appearance is somehow more important than men’s is. If you aren’t sure whether you are overreacting, ask yourself whether the boss would have made a similar comment to George in Sales about his new jacket.

Fail to take input from women seriously in meetings.

A sexist boss would pretend to listen, but would seldom take any of these suggestions seriously, let alone implement them. Until one of the men makes the suggestion, that is. A sexist boss subtly creates the vibe that the real decision-making is men’s work. ‘’Well done George for saying that’’, Really, when Mary had made the point initially!

Assume a lack of knowledge on technical matters.

Whether it is on issues relating to IT, or mechanics, knowledge or ignorance cannot be assumed based on gender. But a sexist boss will do just that without establishing people’s prior knowledge on certain things.
Complain when women take family responsibility leave.

This usually comes from a boss who would not in a million years dream of taking a day off work to take a sick child to the doctor, but expects his wife to miss a day from her job in similar circumstances. Life happens – when working with people, sick children and dying relatives will be part of the equation. One cannot blame women for being in the position of carrying the brunt of the responsibility for these family issues.

Imply that a grievance is somehow hormone related.

If a woman finally snaps at work, a sexist boss will assume she is premenstrual or menopausal – her grievance cannot surely be real. Granted, sometimes hormones can affect both men and women, but even so, justifiable grievances can never be dismissed just for that reason.

I know what you are thinking right now, sometimes both men and women bosses do undermine the well- being of their employees but these things happen on daily basis in organisations.


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

White privilege is real, especially in the workplace

It creeps up in many forms - from the way people are spoken to, right to the lack of people of colour in leadership roles.

The other day a friend said something that left me gobsmacked. She said: "I don't believe white privilege exists." Really?
She is a socially aware, vocal person of colour, so for her to say this was totally unbelievable.
Her reasons were the usual: "I know so many black people who have more than me."
"White people also work hard."

"My white boyfriend had to go work for his dad because he couldn't get a job."
I let her continue. I realised that her perception of white privilege, like so many others, is warped by her own circumstances.
When you are not struggling to find a job it is easy to think white privilege is not real. Similarly, when you blame every little hurdle on white privilege the real issues get overshadowed.

 Not all black people are taking your job, and not all white people get things handed to them, but don't think for one second that this means white privilege is not real. I have experienced it in the little things.

Here are some of the things I have heard people saying over the years:

· There is often a tone of condescension and impatience when addressing people of colour in some office.

· I even once encountered an intern who spoke down to me, his manager, because I was Indian. When he spoke to the white people in the office his voice was all sugar and honey. 

· I spent months appealing to my boss to make changes to a project, bringing forth research and plans on how this would improve it. Nothing happened. A new, white employee (who didn't even work in my department) made the same suggestion, and it was implemented within in a week.

· I worked with two equally incompetent employees. For some strange reason the black employee was fired and the white employee was allowed to finish his contract. That made no sense to me.

And this is just surface level stuff.

We haven't even gotten to the issues of limited people of colours in Managerial roles, the degree of disrespect for BAME or how this all intensifies if you are a woman.

These little things are the tip of a very big, complicated iceberg, I do think that it's time we acknowledge them - it can be a catalyst to affect change on bigger issues. We have to recognise white privilege in every form so people can stop thinking it no longer exists.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Disney's leading female characters are still slaves to some stereotypes

By the age of two, most children use gender pronouns in their speech and proactively identify people as men and women. And by the time they turn seven; little boys and little girls have already learnt a lot about what is expected of them within our – binary – gender system.

A few years ago, researchers from Granada University analysed 621 characters of both sexes from 163 cartoon series, including Monster High and Shin Chan. They found that women are largely relegated to secondary roles: girlfriends, mothers or companions to the animated heroes and villains. American linguists found that men speak 68% of the time in The Little Mermaid, 71% in Beauty and the Beast, 90% in Aladdin and 76% in Pocahontas.

Not only are cartoon women rarely leading characters, they’re also awash in stereotypes. The Spanish researchers reported that most animated women are materialistic, jealous and superficial, obsessed with their bodies and keen to please other people.

How do princesses lead?

Even when women do play the lead, they often reify tired adages about women.

With Pocahontas (1995), for example, Disney showed that not even cartoon women can “have it all”. The Indian princess must choose between success in the public sphere and a happy romantic life.

Indeed, studies have found that in all of the princess films produced by Disney between 1989 and 1999, male characters have three times as much dialogue as female characters. American linguists found that men speak 68% of the time in The Little Mermaid, 71% in Beauty and the Beast, 90% in Aladdin and 76% in Pocahontas. Ariel, the little mermaid herself, actually prefers to be struck dumb forever in exchange for a man.

These lessons are not lost on children, who are well aware that superheroes are mostly boys and princesses are girls. That makes it more difficult to model leadership for young women.

Unlike superheroes, who use their extraordinary gifts to do good for society, cartoon princesses tend to focus on private issues, not public service. Disney has shown some improvement since the days of passive Snow White (1937) and submissive Cinderella (1950). In recent years, female leaders have appeared among the studio’s characters, most notably in Mulan (1998) and the 2013 megahit, Frozen.

But the messages conveyed are not so far removed from the most conventional Disney stereotypes.

Mulan is a bold Chinese warrior, respected and followed by her people…all of whom think she is a man, because she has deceived them by cutting her hair. The point here appears to be that to become a good leader, a woman should look and act like a man.

Frozen was hailed as “not your typical princess movie”, because it portrays two sisters who don’t need to be rescued by a handsome prince. Instead, at the film’s end, Elsa and Anna save each other with their sororal love.

...say some cultural observers, aren’t we’re going too far, here? Watching Disney movies and play-acting the characters – that’s just kids’ stuff, fun and games!

But, the protagonist Elsa has dubious leadership skills. As the elder sister, she is responsible for governing, but when she gets nervous she lets her emotions get the better of her. Despite her good intentions, she cannot effectively wield power.

As a result, she freezes her realm and withdraws into a solitary world. In other words, she lacks emotional intelligence.

Lessons in female leadership

What have we learned? Now, children, repeat after me:

1. Leadership is male.

2. Women are better leaders when they look and act like men.

3. A successful public life interferes in a woman’s private life.

4. When women get emotionally involved, they lose rational thought, and their leadership capacity fails them.

It’s hardly surprising that the lessons we’ve internalised since childhood are reproduced every day by (adult) media coverage of, say, female politicians, who face stereotypes and obstacles utterly unknown to their male colleagues.

But wait, say some cultural observers, aren’t we’re going too far, here? Watching Disney movies and play-acting the characters – that’s just kids’ stuff, fun and games!

Not exactly. Last year, academics from Brigham Young University in Utah looked into this subject, interviewing and observing 198 boys and girls in preschool and kindergarten.

They found that the more the girls identified with “princess culture”, the more they exhibited patterns of behaviour that corresponded to female stereotypes suggesting that beauty, sweetness and obedience are women’s most valuable assets. The study empirically validates concerns that sociologists and feminists have been discussing for some time.

...families must talk with children about the meaning of what they see, ensuring that girls understand that princesses are just one kind of role model...
Recognising that female leadership is not well represented in most societies doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t be exposed to these cultural products. It’s fine for a girl to play at being a princess, as long as she can also kick around a soccer ball, build things with nuts and tools, play the drums and fancy becoming a scientist, engineer, astronaut or firefighter.

Likewise, there’s no reason why a boy dressed as his favourite superhero shouldn’t pretend to take care of babies, cook dinner or vacuum the house.

Still, families must talk with children about the meaning of what they see, ensuring that girls understand that princesses are just one kind of role model – there’s also the powerful Wonder Woman, smart Velma from Scooby-Doo and Peppa Pig (dubbed a “weird feminist” by one conservative blogger).

And, last but not least, adults must ensure that we do not reinforce negative gender messaging in our daily lives by making girls feel that they are most valuable when they look like pretty princesses.

 This article was originally published on The Conversation.











Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Queen bee in Organizations?

I read with interest an article ‘’Making the Invisible Visible: A Cross -Sector Analysis of Gender Based Leadership Barriers’’ and I found the Queen bee effect as a barrier to women in leadership positions interesting. Is this a myth or reality?  The idea of a Queen Bee syndrome dates to research first done in the 1970s. The syndrome encompasses a set of behaviors ranging from women disparaging typically feminine traits (“Women are soooo emotional”), to emphasizing their own “masculine” attributes (“I think more like a guy”), to seeing claims of gender discrimination as baseless (“The reason there are so few women at the top is not because of discrimination. It’s because women are just less committed to their careers”), to being unsupportive of initiatives to address gender inequality. The ultimate Queen Bee is the successful woman who instead of using her power to help other women advance, undermines her women colleagues who may even be more talented than her. If these ‘beta females’ are repressed from within their own gender, surely we have to ask ourselves what chance they have in a male dominated society? I have to say, I have seen and known a fair share of queen bees in my life.

Is there some truth in the Queen Bee stereotype? Are women nastier toward other women than men are to men or than women are to men?

Researches on these kinds of behaviors have found instances in which it is the case. Some women at the top fail to help other women or actively prevent their promotion. A while ago a friend of mine had this to say about a queen bee at her work place: ‘One of the women I ended up working with had a real problem with me. Every time I said anything I was accused of being aggressive and defensive and prevented any attempts of promotion’ Sad isn’t it?

Queen Bee behaviors are not reflective of some Mean Girl gene lurking in women’s DNA. Rather, to the degree they exist, Queen Bee dynamics are triggered by gender discrimination, researchers say.

So what prevents Queen Bee behaviors? - Identifying highly as a woman. Women who have experienced gender discrimination but who more strongly identified with their gender don’t react to such bias by trying to distance themselves from other women.

Remember a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

Food for thought!