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Sexism so subtle, we fail to notice it

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HC Online | 14 Mar 2014, 11:52 AM Agree 0
Sexism in the workplace is alive and well. But as one astute HC Online reader pointed out, it’s often so subtle we fail to notice it.
  • Guy | 14 Mar 2014, 12:59 PM Agree 0
    Really? This is what concerns Kelly Rafferty these days? It's an expression and rightly or wrongly it is widely understood to mean "deal with the situation". It is not intended as a sexist comment nor should it be taken that way. If someone suggested that a male needs to get in touch with their feminine side, should all men who are in touch with their feelings then be similarly offended at the sexist comment?
    I think we have bigger things to worry about quite frankly than a couple of occasions where someone has mistakenly thought the male was in charge. It's not necessarily a gender bias as people make assumptions on all sorts of non-verbal indicators like body language, wardrobe, self-projection and so on. Perhaps when Susan Rooney is out with her colleagues she doesn't give of a CEO vibe. Maybe Linda Wayman defers to her date in public.
    Seriously, instead of continuing to flog this dead horse (no offense to equine readers) why don't we start to focus debate on more important issues.
  • Richard Frazer | 14 Mar 2014, 01:18 PM Agree 0
    Absolutely. I attended a International Womens Day event and one take away was the level of microagrressive behaviour from otherwise well meaning men.
    The gender specific joke
    The focus on attractiveness over ability
    The demeaning use of language. Imagine
    International Ladies Day.
    Men have to get better at calling other men when the choose to indulge in sexist behaviour
  • Catherine | 14 Mar 2014, 01:39 PM Agree 0
    Thank you so very much for acknowledging this issue (& why the "man up" phrase is inappropriate)
  • Jane | 14 Mar 2014, 02:04 PM Agree 0
    Yes, and the reverse, telling people they're acting "like a girl". These expressions are embedded in our daily language and seem harmless. Everytime we express ourselves like this we're sending out the subtle message that man is better than girl.
  • Kate | 14 Mar 2014, 03:08 PM Agree 0
    Guy's comment demonstrates exactly why we need to be aware of and work to remove covert sexism. The very expression "man up" suggests that we should act like men if we are to be effective. If it means "deal with the situation" why not say just that? Likewise the expression "he or she's got balls" is suggesting that they are effective because they are acting in a masculine way. Until we remove these expressions from our language there will always be sexism. I'm not just talking about men - disappointingly I have heard women use these expressions too.
  • Martha | 14 Mar 2014, 04:07 PM Agree 0
    While I personally think all gender-based phraseology is inappropriate, my biggest challenge as a professional women is using my own sexist language - against men.

    It may well teach those males who make subtle or snide comments against women a lesson about how their conduct, skills and behaviours should not be compared to their gender, but it is easy as a woman to get caught perpetuating stereotypes about men... "can't multi-task"; "thinks in black & white"; "more concerned about their status than their output" etc etc.

    I think we (women) are quick to point out when men get it wrong... but if we're honest with ourselves, do we get it wrong sometimes too?
  • Marc | 14 Mar 2014, 05:31 PM Agree 0
    In 2014, if any male assumes the male is in charge in the situations cited above. he needs to be castigated for being an idiot as well as being sexist! What concerns me sometimes in this debate is the underlying desire for 'sameness' across the genders. I for one welcome differences across genders and the different leadership styles, behaviors, communication skills, insights etc that both genders may bring to the table .
  • Leanne Faraday-Brash | 14 Mar 2014, 05:37 PM Agree 0
    Hi Guy, I think your analogy to men getting in touch with their feminine side is an entirely appropriate analogy for ‘man up’ as they are both gender-based comments even if we find neither of them offensive.
    However because this article was about subtle and even unwitting sexism, I feel compelled to say that the expression 'man up' clearly originates from the notion that to 'deal with a situation' (using your words) effectively or decisively or even calmly is to behave like a man, rather than, dare I say it, the oft-depicted irrational and/or overly emotional woman.
    For those of us who aren't sexist and don't think in those ways, these idiomatic expressions can just slip by us, but if you examine their underpinning, they undoubtedly reflect a gender stereotype (eg. "You're playing football like a girl!!"). Sexism isn't always malicious, and you aren't necessarily sexist because you don't object to the use of the expression, but sexism can be inadvertent when we fail to reflect on our impact vs. our intent. There would have been no reaction at all if the expression used by Lawrence Polsky in the original article was ‘toughen up’.
  • Human Being | 15 Mar 2014, 09:18 AM Agree 0
    I put $100 on 'Guy' being a closet Andrew Bolt commenter.
  • Alison | 17 Mar 2014, 11:17 AM Agree 0
    I agree we are moving in the right direction with the reduction in overt sexism. But I wonder if there is a place for accepting differences between the genders, rather than completely neutralising our language and aspiring to androgynous leaders.
  • Catherine Cahill | 17 Mar 2014, 11:29 AM Agree 0
    I agree with Leanne that "there would have been no reaction at all if the expression used was… 'toughen up'". The discussion would have been about the topic intended.

    This is what we experience at work. A discussion, a meeting, a performance review, rapidly runs off track because someone says something that indicates bias. This is why it is important for HR professionals to train and coach their staff and managers to make sure they get their true message across.

    If you want your message to be received clearly, then you need to use language that does not allow anyone to "hijack" the argument. If someone objects to something you have said because it appears to be a assuming only a certain group in the population are capable of performing the task/role, it is far better to apologise and move on, rather than expressing offence and trying to justify the phrase.

    "Political correctness" if you object, "inclusiveness" if you agree. But the argument has been won.
  • Pat from Brisbane | 17 Mar 2014, 11:53 AM Agree 0
    Here's the thing: what we say as HR professionals, as managers and as senior leaders in our organisations, in our communities and in our networks, gives tacit approval for others to engage in the same behaviours and language. Making profound changes in our behaviours will always feel stilted and unnatural to begin with, but that is no reason not to try. Think back to when other changes were introduced - wearing stack hats on bikes, wearing seat belts in cars, not smoking in bars: all of these felt unusual or brought comments of "what a wally" etc to begin with, but now we wouldnt think twice about abiding by such rules. Perhaps the way to go is for a forum or publication such as this to come up with a list of such terms and phrases and suggested alternatives, with the idea of playing some sort of 'sexist bingo'.... just an idea....
  • Annie | 17 Mar 2014, 01:27 PM Agree 0
    It happens at work, socially and sport. Recently a coach of boys basketball team (13yrs) wanted to dress the boys up in pink girly outfits for the weakest player.
    The saddest thing is majority of the parents (mothers) thought this was "funny" (and even offered to make the girly outfit)- sad :(
    All we can do is stand up and make others aware of why this is wrong.
  • Linda | 17 Mar 2014, 04:47 PM Agree 0
    Guy, exactly how would you describe the 'CEO vibe' that Susan Rooney should give, when in public? And why is it OK for someone to assume that Linda Wayman is not a CEO because she apparently 'defers' to her date in public?
  • Richard Frazer | 18 Mar 2014, 12:00 PM Agree 0
    A strategy to call behaviour is to just ask the person to repeat what they have said.
    She needs to man up. Im sorry what did you say. Causes the person to reflect on the silliness of their comment and they are very likely to self edit and then say what they actually meant.
  • Nicole | 25 Apr 2014, 03:06 AM Agree 0
    Thank you Richard Frazer!

    The term "micro-aggression" is perfect! Accurate, it is also very real and very ugly.

    Alpha males can shut this down with a look. They need to be empowered to speak up and correct behavior without being accused of "being a part of the patriarchal paradigm that keeps us down".

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