Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sexual Hypocrisy in the Workplace

Sexism and sexual inappropriateness in the workplace. Ubiquitous. Happens to all of us. Who can afford to lose her job to stand up to it? Who gives up and just counts the days until retirement? Who buys a lotto ticket two times a week on a long shot to infinity; hoping this one will be the winner and she can quit her job?

Who uses her sex to manipulate men in the workplace? Who finds her power there? Who doesn't care how it affects other women? Who was taught sex and desirability is really where a woman's power lies?

Hypocrisy. Ladies, you all know what I'm talking about. We live in a culture that still pushes sex as power. Here's an example:

Dynamite Clothing - The Rise of WorkLeisure

If this doesn't drip with sick irresponsibility, I don't know what does. This marketing campaign shows a gorgeous woman of mixed race lounging seductively, tucking her chin coquettishly, swaying her hips through the boardroom, modeling off the shoulder tunics, backless blouses, and form fitting leather skirts as a campaign for blending the lines between work and happy hour.

I'm going to tell you with complete authority and 25 years of management experience that everything about this campaign is a bad idea. Girls don't do it. Mothers, tell your young professional daughters, "don't do it." I'm not being prudish. Women should feel good, beautiful and powerful. Women should then be successful based on work merit and ethics. I'm completely certain that an ad campaign that gives a style for every day of the week, and calls Thursday's style "Trophy Thursday" is not concerned with a woman's intellectual abilities.

Don't do it.

This campaign drips with disaster. Even if sexualizing her work power works, eventually it will ruin the woman who does it. Unwanted sexual advances, sexual assault and pariah status are probably a given possibility, but the underbelly of this kind of approach to work is a deep, slow burning self hate. Loneliness. Broken Trust. Lack of meaningful connection. Spiritual decay. Decay.

This is harsh, but I'm going to say it straight - A piece of meat decays.

I think if you ask around, you'll find that most people in an office don't trust the "dynamite" girl. She may be perfectly wonderful, interesting and smart, but who wants to sit with her at happy hour? Not her female peers. Not the men who know better. Don't do it.

Part 2 - My Own Hypocricy

I once attended a company meeting where a senior leader popped off a sexually inappropriate joke about women. It was sandwiched between his frequent use of the F-word; which is probably his favorite superlative. The female VP of Human Resources was there. She murmured a weak protest, and then let it go.

"He's a good guy. You know how they are. They're just different than us."

True statement from a workmate in my office.

A few hours later, I met with the VP or Human Resources. My goal was focused. Better training tools and systematic ways to document progress. I went in and pitched for my staff. For ways to showcase their gifts and talents. Ways to help them advance based on skills and merit. I did not mention the earlier gross behavior. 


Did I let that go because I didn't want to hurt mine or my staff's ability to promote and succeed?  Had I justified the comments because good guys like him are just that way; when I don't believe that bullshit excuse anyway? Most definitely, it was self preservation in a very male dominant company.

I'm a 50 something woman. God. I won't even get into that one. I have a family. I have a home, a car, a 401k, rural property. I also have a long successful work history as an operations manager. I have a Master's Degree. In my current job, I manage one of the largest teams in the company. I manage multiple projects. I am the poster child for a mother in the workplace. I do it all, y'all. I know a lot, and I am valued by my peers. There are about 5 layers of managers above me. Only two know my name. The rest have a vague idea that my department can make or break the whole business. Yet, I'd probably react the same way today if a similar situation happened. I'd self-preserve.

So, how do respected, successful women change this culture? Much like teaching young girls self respect falls on the parent, it may be that teaching professional self respect falls on the leader. That's me. It may be you.

I try to keep my eye to appearances wide shut when interviewing job candidates. If looks become a distraction, I talk about it with a trusted peer so that she can help me shake that and make a good hiring decision based on merit. I don't shy away from different. I do have my ways of peeling back the interview facade to take a look at social beliefs and views of the world. I have to do this because I can't tolerate backwards social thinking. I can't hire hidden misogyny. 

What's left to do? I have to believe that I am so critical to the mission that I can stand up to sexual inappropriateness without fear of repercussion. I'll let y'all know how it goes if the situation arises again.

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