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Times Up for Misogyny in the Workplace

My first unpaid job started at five years of age, working with my single mother in her direct sales business. I traveled with Ma to her at-home presentations, sales meetings, recruiting interviews, and every other way she showed up in her direct sales business. (Yes, I grew up riding shotgun in a Pink Cadillac.) I learned more about business at Ramada Inn boardrooms, in booths in Perkins restaurants, and around dining room tables of strangers all over the Midwest. I was Chief Washcloth Runner, Product Fulfillment Officer, and Passenger Seat Companion for my mother, and it was nearly the only job I’ve ever held where I didn't experience some form of misogyny.

My first paid job was at my neighborhood McDonald’s at 14 years of age, and the misogyny began right away. Not only was I sexually harassed by the cooks on a regular basis, I was also assaulted in broad daylight one day walking to work in my hideous navy blue polyester uniform. As a child.

Sometimes misogyny is blatant. Like so many women out there, I have rebuffed countless advances, inappropriate jokes, and general grossness by bosses, customers, prospects, and colleagues. (There are rare exceptions, of course, and I continue to hold those men with great regard. I’m talkin’ to you, Dave.)

Professional women walking in the office

However, more often than not, women endure micro-aggressions of misogyny, actions that undercut our authority and our ability to get work done, prohibiting the organization from truly leveraging their greatest talent. Multiple research studies show that women are better leaders, especially in times of crisis, and it's not inconsequential to the bottom line, especially in a rapidly-changing world.

Acts of misogyny can push women out of organizations that otherwise could have enabled them to contribute far more significantly, if only the behavior was more appropriate.

Here are just a few of the micro-aggressions that I've experienced in my career:

  • Having my male counterparts in meetings assume that because I was the only woman in the room, I would be the one to provide the snacks ahead of time and clean up the mess afterward. It was always women who would toss people's Styrofoam coffee cups and crumbly plates in the garbage and put the extra handouts in the recycling bin. Every stinkin’ time.

  • After hearing a suggestion or recommendation I offered, men will often remark in a surprised tone, “That is ACTUALLY a good idea.” Yeah, Sparky, I know it's a good idea. I'm the one who came up with it. {sigh}

  • Using body language and physical size to subtly intimidate women into submission. After offering an idea in an internal meeting that challenged the status quo, I once had a member of the C-Suite literally get out of his chair, stand next to me with his crotch next to my face, look down at me and say, “I'm not afraid of you.” Ummm, okayyyy. That’s totally normal. Let's just say I wasn't in that role for very much longer.

  • Making the assumption that women are automatically designated notetakers. Somehow our fingers are more able to take notes than our male counterparts. News Flash: Being a woman does not make one a better typist. Last time I checked, women don't type with their ovaries. 

  • Working with organizations that proclaim to value women in the workplace and yet relegate their events and special interest groups (and many others for that matter) to an afterthought, barely funding their activities. At Women in Business events, for example, the coffee budget can often be larger than what they pay the actual experts in the front of the room. It’s infuriating, especially when you’ve earned credentials out the wazoo.

The list goes on and on.

I'm curious, to all of my professional sisters out there: What are the micro-offenses you've endured in your career, simply because you are a woman?

Just as importantly, to my professional brothers: Have you ever observed this kind of misogyny in your workplace, and what did you do about it?

To my gentleman friends in business, especially those in leadership positions, I gently encourage you to consider how you may be unconsciously promoting misogyny in the workplace. Without judgment, shame, or guilt, simply notice what you have done in the past that could have alienated your female colleagues. If you are unsure, ask them. They will appreciate your genuine curiosity, humility, and willingness to grow.

As we close out Women’s History Month, I invite you to make a promise to yourself, your organization, your colleagues, and every woman you know – including that next generation of young girls who are watching you – that you will see PEOPLE around the table instead of men and women.

We've grown beyond this as a culture. One look at the changing landscape of gender identity shows us that the generations to come simply won't tolerate it. I for one am thrilled at the thought of a balanced, fair workplace for ALL.

Let's all vow to do our best to break this systemic habit steeped in the patriarchy and be a part of the solution of the new workplace world where women and every other minority feels free to contribute their gifts and talents to the greatest degree without fear of harassment, recrimination, or diminishment.

I gotta say, that's ACTUALLY a good idea. 😉

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