If It Smells like Fish – It’s Usually Fish. Same goes for Sexism.

There are some cases in my every day life where I am not too sure if I am being treated differently due to the fact that I am a woman or not. Sometimes I wonder to myself, if it could be a combination of things, such as age, rank or job description – not just my gender. Or if I am just looking for excuses and it really is my gender. I sound confusing because I am confused. Let me give you an example.
An older, very respected gentleman works in my company. He wears vests and a smile every morning. He is kind, respectful to others and very knowledgeable. I will call him John. John is a family man. He is well respected in the company and no one has a bad word to say about him. I too enjoy being in the company of  John and appreciate his feedback. We grab coffee sometimes and discuss life, our positions and our co-workers.
In the last couple of months, I have been put in a project with John. My role is just to manage the project, and he is to provide expertise. In each meeting however, John keeps mentioning he will have meetings with the other people to take various aspects forward. He added, he will invite me to meetings again when he feels its necessary. When I suggested it wouldn’t be harmful to have me involved, he said I have too much work as it is.
And from then on out, when I suggested updating a document or changing a slide, he would assign the task to other people, as he stated I have too much to do.
Now, it is very kind that someone keeps an eye out for you. And it is very kind that John was so observant. Yet – I find it very patronizing. I manage my workload well, I don’t stay late in the office and I meet every deadline. I eat my lunch, have coffee breaks and manage to find time to go to the gym over lunch. I do have a lot of work – but I can look out for myself and manage the load by myself. I am not used to having someone who is not my boss determine how my time is spent.
I may be overreacting, but I feel John is looking out too far for me in a professional setting. Simply said, I don’t need someone to father me at work. Don’t get me wrong, I truly feel John acts out of the best intentions. I believe he aims to not see me work myself into a grave. But I should be able to determine that on my own, no?
Which brings me to my original point. Was this an act of sexism? I generally believe he sees me as this young female who can’t say no and he is trying to help. Yet, I don’t want to be seen as a young female, I want to be seen as an aspiring professional. Neither my age nor my gender should determine how I am being treated or how I should be treated. That to me is the core belief of equality.
When I spoke about this with a coworker of mine – she rolled her eyes and said it had nothing to do with my gender as she knows John very well. But this just reminded me of the many times women get shot down when they are being discriminated against. We are always called emotional, sensitive or silly because no one wants to deal with discomfort in their lives. Life would be great if we all got along, wouldn’t it?
On the other hand, perhaps it is really just a kind professional gesture and I am getting it all wrong. Maybe because I am a feminist, I just see gender as a part of the equation wherever I go.
Either way, I will never know what makes John act overprotective of my workload because I doubt John knows himself. Many times we are steered by stereotypes. Our perception is steered by what we are told to see and sometimes it is steered by how much of ourselves we see in others. Just claiming sexism would be wrong. Yet to say my gender doesn’t play a central role in many situations would also be wrong.
In either case, I should have stood up for myself and just said in the meeting: Oh I think I have a good handle on the workload myself thank you very much though. Having a voice is something I am not used to as a woman. It is a kind of sexism I oppose on myself. And I hope with time, I will learn not to be sexist towards myself.

Beware Of Gender

In the recent weeks, I have been in the process of hiring a one year intern. I have been through the hiring process before and I keep up to date with recent hiring techniques. For example, always asking the same questions to each applicant, figuring out their skills and approach rather than the knowledge they have already accumulated. The goal is to focus to find the key strengths you are looking for in this position and finding the potential rather than checking off tick boxes. I genuinely believe everyone has a skill they bring to the table, it just might not be the one you are looking for.

For this position, I was looking for someone with great interest in new products, new technology, and someone who likes to get lost in exploring them and rolling them out. I interviewed eight candidates that were already screened by HR on their skill set. I focused on looking for someone that would be happy working on their own, getting lost in a new area and learning on their own. Someone that gets motivated when given a puzzle on their own and learns the ins and out of this puzzle. According to that, I placed my offers.

Once completed, my boss asked me how the hiring was for me. When I mentioned that I was very impressed by all candidates, I felt that the following three would be my top choice he said: “Why aren’t there women in your top three?”.

No objection here. It is great that a male keeps an eye out for female applicants. But just because I am a woman and a feminist it doesn’t mean that I put women first. It’s not about treating women better than men. It’s about equality. And if I had found a woman that would have covered all the characteristics I was looking for, I would have put her up. But I didn’t.

Real women do not want to receive something simply because they are women. They just don’t want to be discriminated or neglected because they are female. Gender should never, ever play a role in the hiring process.

I am a big fan of the technique some orchestras have used. They use blind auditions and that has helped them increase the number of women they hire.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras began using blind auditions. Candidates are situated on a stage behind a screen to play for a jury that cannot see them. In some orchestras, blind auditions are used just for the preliminary selection while others use it all the way to the end, until a hiring decision is made.

Even when the screen is only used for the preliminary round, it has a powerful impact; researchers have determined that this step alone makes it 50% more likely that a woman will advance to the finals.” (full article: The Guardian).

We need to find ways to do this in business. For example, even removing the name of the candidate off the CV and just giving an ID, thus removing any gender indication. Not having a photo is also a really good beginning. It can’t hurt in any way if its really just the skills you are looking for. And that’s what it should be.

Male or female – your candidate should fit to the position. Gender should never play a bias. And for the record, in case you are wondering, I have hired women before. Skills and strengths are associated to a person and their character, and not the category of their gender.

Not All Queen Bee’s Are Beyonce

Queen Bee’s are what’s wrong with the world today.

Ok – that is an overstatement, but they sure are one of the things that are wrong with this world. One of the many, many, many, many things.

A Queen Bee is a – as put by the Atlantic – “female sex that causes women to undermine each other on the job all the time” (read: Why women don’t sometimes help each other). Some people claim that’s because these women have felt sexism in the past and despite all efforts to undermine them, they made it to the top. Now they don’t want another woman to have it easier.

My friend Jenna worked for a female boss, lets call her Janice, who took her under her wing when Jenna started her first job out of college. Jenna looked up to Janice and liked having someone to look out for her, especially in a company with only 20% female staff. Jenna once told me: “I got an amazing performance review in July. My boss Janice told me her boss had even noticed I was doing well, and suggested I take over more and more of her tasks to gain responsibility”.

So, Jenna took over more and more tasks from Janice and noticed Janice be more passive aggressive to her. At one meeting where Jenna was asked a question – Janice snorted at her. By the end of the year, in only 4 months Jenna moved from a top employee to “barely meeting expectations”.

When Jenna asked what was the reason for this, Janice said: “Well, sometimes you make yourself look stupid. And it’s not professional”.

Jenna was disappointed and confused. Needless to say, only months later she took a job somewhere else.

So the question is – to you readers – what do you do with a Queen Bee? How do you handle one, if you don’t want to quit your job? How do you point out you are being mistreated because you are a woman like her. Because the problem is, when you do point it out, you remind them of the inadequacy they feel inside. If you are a proud, confident, strong woman, why would you feel the need to bring others down?

I think its in the culture. If the company or environment breathes diversity, it cannot feed into the Queen Bee’s fear. Making it easier for all – no matter what gender you are – to achieve success – makes it, easier for all to achieve success.

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