We live in a society still awash with inequality. It is all around us, every single day. We think we’ve overcome it. We think women are treated the same as men, but we aren’t. We think racism is a thing of the past. It isn’t. We think we’ve almost won the fight against homophobia. We’ve still got a long way to go.
As illustrated this week in the conversations about the firing of Jill Abramson, the first female editor of the New York Times, women in the workplace are still held to a different standard, or as someone pointed out to me, everyone but straight white men are still held to a different standard. If we are confident, we are stuck up. If we have high standards for our employees, we are bossy bitches. If we are passionate about what we do, we are overly emotional!
“Abramson’s experience suggests that, for many women, the confidence gap is not that they have less faith in their abilities than men. It’s that (unlike men) they’re expected to downplay their confidence in order to seem nonthreatening and likable — or face professional consequences.”
As Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out recently, the playing field is not level. The professional opportunities for women, gay men and men of color are still quite different than they are for straight, white men.
Is this a gender issue, a race issue, a straight versus gay issue? It’s all these. It’s a human issue. We’ve just got to cut it the hell out. We’ve got to stop tolerating it. We’ve got to point it out every single time it happens and it’s going to take all of us!
A recent video called “White guys: we suck and we’re sorry!” is a satirical look at straight, white privilege. One guy says “If you knew how easy it is to be a straight white man in America, you’d get why we might be a bit resistant to change.” We need these guys. It’s the only way we will ever win this thing, if those who are the privileged join the fight.
It will also take every one of us, every day. Oh yeah, we all talk about how we believe in equality. We join campaigns. We sign petitions. We post cute sayings about it on Facebook. Actually changing it however, is going to mean calling attention to it every single day in our own lives. That’s hard. That’s uncomfortable. That’s necessary.
One of the best things about being middle-aged is having the courage to say the things that need saying. I’ve been in more than one professional meeting when a sexist comment comes up and folks across the table who know me will go wide-eyed wondering what on earth I’m going to say! With good reason, I rarely let those things go. The same goes for a homophobic comment, or a racial slur, you can be guaranteed I’m going to point it out.
I’ve been known to throw words like penis around in public a little too often for some people’s comfort. “Does that job require that you actually perform it WITH a penis? No? Well then women can do that job too!” Or, “does it require a uterus to schedule a meeting, make coffee, or photocopy that agenda? No? Then I bet you are perfectly capable of doing it as well!”
See what I mean, I am fun to work with!
Another friend this week mentioned online that when telling someone about her (very impressive) professional experience they had asked if she had gone to a “historically black college!” Excuse me? What relevance does the color of my college classmates play in my professional experience? Is a historically black college somehow less than a historically white college? Suppose she had gone to an all female college? Does that mean either of these educations are somehow inferior? Why is he asking this? Yet, you can be certain that if she had called him out on this, someone would have taken offense at HER remarks! Right?
I know too many women (and men) afraid to stand up for themselves in the work place, afraid that speaking the truth will be counted against them. I know too many young women still asked to schedule the meetings and make the coffee just because they are the only female in the room, when often their education and experience is far beyond any of their male co-workers.
The most disappointing thing is they often do it. They put up with the wise cracks. They take the lesser assignments and they work twice as hard as their male co-workers trying to prove their own worth. Then they sit by and watch while others are promoted and they are left behind, afraid to speak up for fear that they won’t have any job at all if they do!
It’s time to stop that. NOT saying anything has never made anyone better off in the work place. Not even once.
Voice your concerns. Call it out. Do it professionally, do it calmly (lord forbid you get accused of being emotional) but do it! You can say something as simple as “since I don’t want to miss any of your presentation, I’d be happy to have my assistant make coffee for you!” Say that EVERY SINGLE TIME they ask, until eventually, they stop asking and ask the assistant themselves.
Stand up for yourself and stand up for those around you! Tell that co-worker that his/her joke is inappropriate, that their gossip and stereotyping is inappropriate. Do not take part in things that make you uncomfortable and that you know are blatantly wrong. If that costs you your job, well there is a job more suited to you out there somewhere and its time you found it! It’s not worth your career to lose your values, your morals, and your very soul!
And in the end, being a push over will not help your career. I guarantee it!
More often than not, you’ll find that others around you agree with you, they just lacked the courage to say anything. Or you’ll find that they weren’t even aware that what they said or did was offensive and suddenly you have a teachable moment!
The only way we will ever change things is if we all do this! Every! Single! Time!