In the last eighteen months, since the birth of the #MeToo movement there has been much talk of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace (typically, but not always, senior men taking advantage of women who are junior to them). Some of those men either overtly or covertly even demand sex in return for opportunity, pay rises and promotions. Unfortunately, during my career I’ve seen this behaviour at play on many occasions. Serious stuff that is so demeaning and insulting and as a result deserves the attention it garners, but little has been said about the more general belittling of women and girls and the long term impact that has.
It breaks my heart when I see a high performing young woman suggest she applies for the teaching assistant role rather than the teaching role, or a carer role rather than the nurse’s role, or the office assistant rather than the ops manager. Better to aim low so you’re not disappointed or aiming low because that’s where you’ve been told to aim? Different things for different women I suspect but either way it’s heart breaking that in this day and age it still happens all too often.
I remember a CEO once saying to me ‘you’re just a little girl Helen, what would you know?’ I was in my early thirties at the time with three children and had already built and sold one HR business. I was challenging the business strategy of a business that I was a director of (that just six months later was closed down on the recommendations of its auditors who confirmed all that I had been saying). It worked though…his belittling made me doubt my abilities, made me doubt my business instincts and above all ensured I knew my place. His words, not that he would have known that, reinforced messages I had received throughout my childhood and early adulthood about my competence, my place, and my value in the world.
And that cumulative effect of messages over 2, 3 or even 4 decades about someone’s place, value and career is the reason so many feel unable to defend themselves or fight back. I have seen it so often, it is simply easier to put up and shut up and slink away.
I have both experienced and seen this belittling of people too many times to count across my career. Interestingly from women too. So, let’s not just focus on the impact men have in the workplace. They didn’t publish the book The Twisted Sisterhood for nothing!!
I recall someone once greeting me saying ‘how’s the business, I don’t suppose you’ll ever get it to make money’ (wow, way to go to ensure I have a few more limiting beliefs!), I’ve heard a client expressing surprise that Jaluch’s female HR consultants have the same charge out rate as the male consultants (even in this day and age!).
When you have managers saying they want to promote women, but no one is stepping forward or they don’t know if someone has the potential as she’s too quiet, or you want diversity at senior levels but there are no women pushing themselves forward, then perhaps a bit of education wouldn’t go amiss. It’s not about blame, that’s a waste of energy, but managers and leaders do need to stop to reflect on how the self confidence, self esteem and visibility in the workplace of millions of women in this country are likely to be impacted as a result of having lived for decades in an environment created by family, friends and work or career network of low expectations, throw away belittling comments, insinuations about lack of ‘nous’, fight or ‘gravitas’ etc.
I often see gobby, ego-driven, self-confident women denying that we have a problem. They are the lucky ones who have been brought up in a supportive environment and interestingly, as a result of their confidence, they often sit near the top of the tree. I would dearly love them to take some time to develop their emotional intelligence and take a little time to look around them to see the real world.
There is truly a mountain of untapped female potential out there if only more attention was given to spotting and supporting those who glide or slide through the workplace corridors shrouded in a cloak of invisibility built up in response to years of belittling and low expectations.
My pragmatic inner voice though tells me that the belittling and consequent loss of potential to businesses will never be addressed for as long as #MeToo keeps everyone talking about sex, sex and more sex. Other hugely damaging, but less headline-grabbing behaviours simply never get noticed or discussed. While campaigners such as the women behind #EverydaySexism have done a great job in highlighting these normalised incidents, they are often talking to each other in a bubble, with men (and some women) uninterested or threatened by the insinuation that they might be part of the problem.
Insinuations of incompetence. Belittling of opinions. Language that demeans or suggests junior-ority (we have seniority so why not juniority?) it’s time to start noticing it and it’s definitely time to stamp it out. So where, how and when are YOU going to start? We are ALL part of the problem, so let’s ALL take responsibility for dealing with the problem.
This is a personal blog written by Helen Jamieson. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Jaluch Ltd. The views and opinions posted in response to this blog are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily represent those of Helen Jamieson or Jaluch Ltd. Jaluch Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of the information within this blog.