I recently learned about a new Website that allows women to review their employers. I’m pretty excited! I found out about it through an article posted to Forbes.com by Georgene Huang, “Going Beyond the Assumptions: How Do Women Really Feel About Workplace Equality?” Huang is the founder of the site, FairyGodBoss, which allows women to share their stories about the workplace, including allowing them to express their feelings about their employer’s policies, practices, and culture.
It’s great that such a forum exists because there’s so much about the workplace experience that can’t be controlled by sexual harassment policies, and once those policies are in place, most companies seem to feel their work is done. Or, at best, if you’re lucky enough to be in a company that has a women’s empowerment, or leadership, initiative, that usually is deemed to be more than enough. Both sexual harassment policies and programs that encourage the progress of women are important, but there’s so much more to the story of workplace gender equality.
For example, how do you monitor, or control, the subtle ways a woman can be held back, such as by condescending managers and executives? Can you enforce a rule that would prevent a group of all-male executives from leaving out the one or two women executives from their out-of-office gatherings, or even leave out their one or two female colleagues when having business lunches or dinners with all-male clients? The sad part is when there’s only one woman in the work group, they may feel they’re doing her a favor by not inviting her to the gathering, figuring that she wouldn’t feel comfortable. It’s not sexual harassment, and maybe not even discrimination, not to invite her, so it’s hard to control that kind of exclusion from happening. Do you have any ideas on how to make the women at your company an integrated part of even work groups where men greatly outnumber women?
One of my friends recently had to lodge a sexual harassment complaint at her company because one of her colleagues wouldn’t engage with her in a professional manner. When she asked a work-related question, he would respond by lingering over her name, drawing out his words in a teasing voice, like he was speaking to a child. Or he would block her path through the office, putting his arm up to keep her from getting to the printer, or he would sit uncomfortably close to her. Her company handled the complaint in the way you would hope, having her meet directly with the head of the small company to discuss the matter. The problem is even after filing the formal complaint, and the company speaking to the offending male colleague, nothing has changed. He is just as inappropriate in his attitude and actions toward her. What’s worse, she since has learned that this is not the first company where sexual harassment-related complaints have been filed against him. When her story made its way across her company’s grapevine, she learned there were many rumors about his behavior at a previous employer. How did none of that history make its way into the reference-checking phone calls that were required before he was hired? Is there a way to ensure your company captures that kind of troubling history about potential new employees?
Actions are sometimes easy to control, but attitude is far more difficult. As I’ve written about frequently on this blog, I’m still angling for a merit-based salary increase, and individual recognition, after five years on the job. I’ve had face-to-face conversations with my boss about this, and have even formally lodged my criticism of him in written performance reviews, turned into the Human Resources department in both written and electronic form. What does he do? He brings me a box of candy after a business trip, and other little gifts after other trips, much as you would imagine a character on Mad Men bringing a little gift for his secretary, or worse yet, as you might imagine a husband 50 years ago would think he could smooth things over with an angry wife by bringing her a box of candy. I don’t want to be ungracious, or rude, so I always say, “Thank you.” And then I go back to interacting professionally, but declining to make friendly small talk with him. I think he’s genuinely surprised—he thinks boxes of candy and little gifts make up for lack of professional and monetary recognition! Is this a subtle form of gender inequality in the workplace, or is this the same situation a male colleague in my shoes might experience?
Clearly, it’s condescending and disrespectful to answer an employee’s request for professional recognition with a box of candy and other gifts, but is this behavior you can set up rules to prevent? How does your company prevent the condescending attitude some men still exhibit toward women in the workplace?
One answer I can think of that possibly could improve the attitude toward professional women is to have more women serve as heads of departments, presidents, and CEOs. It may be harder for the unconsciously chauvinistic male managers and executives to act that way when their own boss is a woman.
What can corporate Learning professionals do to prevent the subtle forms of gender inequality in the workplace? How do you cultivate a respectful attitude toward women at your company?