Last week I was having dinner with a professional colleague and friend who’s building her career nicely within one of the tech giants. She was blowing steam out of both ears because she’d been in a 3-hour meeting that day where the drip, drip, drip water torture of gendered language kept her from hearing anything about business: what a loss.
“It’s guys, always guys” as in, “you guys” or “hey, guys” or “we guys”. Drip, drip, drip. All I think is, “I’m being told as a woman that I’m not part of this meeting.”
While many of us would like to claim that “guys” is gender neutral and inclusive- guess what, it’s not. Nor is using “he” as your only pronoun when sex is unknown or using “she” when referring to gendered occupations like teaching, nursing, or HR. (While statistics maybe on your side, almost all occupations and roles have some women and somemen). Moving back and forth between “he” and “she” when referring to “sex undeclared or unknown” is not only correct (norms aside), but actually builds awareness in everyone you talk to that gender inclusive language is appropriate and at least for you, expected. Some people even go to all female “she/her/hers” to make the point more clearly. It’s amazing how ears perk up when they hear unfamiliar word usage.
(Now you could say that this woman should just suck it up — no workplace is tailored to every individual’s needs; but if you are her manager, you realize your team productivity and spirit is being damaged by what is likely a relatively quick fix. If this is bothering one person, it likely does or will bother others. And if you are a colleague who’s invested in your team cohesiveness — then why not make the change? What is something didn’t work for you — would you want some consideration?)
The tough part is that changing our patterns of speech use actually takes a good bit of attention. First, work on one change at a time. Second, ask someone to casually monitor you and let you know if you’re achieving your goal. And third, don’t be surprised if your brain makes you stop — and search — for the new preferred word. This is a normal part of making a change of this kind — your new pattern, steadily reinforced, can become a habit, overtaking the old habit, within weeks.
What About #MeToo and Me?
#MeToo is bringing sensitive and charged issues of sexual harassment and gender bias in the world of work to global attention and heightened concern. How do men stand tall for gender equality in this environment? A recent national, scientifically valid survey of 2,950 employed adults, with data weighted for race, sex, education, and geography, delivered the following results[i]:
- Almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together.
- Almost 30% of male managers are uncomfortable working alone with a woman — more than twice as many as before.
Titled “harassment backlash” effect, this bias is not captured in either sexual harassment or unconscious bias concepts. For most men on the right side of #MeToo, it’s about heightened uncertainty and self and other-concern. Let’s unpack those two. The latter has to do with not stepping over any lines that might cause damage to career or reputation, or harm or discomfort others. But the former has to do with heightened levels of un-sureness about what IS the line and WHERE IS the line. Both of these heightened sensitivities can lead to more understanding and gender equity, but only if the uncertainty is addressed and if new norms are confirmed with you, in your profession, and in your workplace about what constitutes appropriate behavior and expectations.
Men aren’t bad guys. Some men are bad guys. And some men are great guys. Hey, great guys: seek advice, be careful, but don’t stop advocating for and benefiting from your diverse workforce. Let’s not slide back because of the dark side. For direction, Julie Silard Kantor, writing in Huff Post shares, 8 Healthy Boundaries in the Age of #MeToo, including: keep the focus on your mentee’s goals and aspirations, meet in public, after 8 is too late, and alcohol and mentoring are not “a great combination”.
DO keep reaching out to those not in the central loop who need the boost of your attention on their work to move forward. Men who get it: you’re needed now to translate this crisis to a better outcome toward inclusion.
Don’t Forget About the College Grads — One Base of Your Company’s Future (and Your Career)
Tens of thousands of senior undergraduate students are entering the professional job hunt right now, many for the first time in their lives. Remember that? Take a few minutes this week to find out how your company — big or small — is recruiting new college grads, what internship opportunities are available, and what sort of diversity goals exist for under-represented groups in your industry/sector/geography. Talented people of all kinds are out there. If your HR effort doesn’t know where to find them, reach out to dedicated organizations, for example, Tech Connection, or college Career Services Centers, who specialize in assisting companies in reaching diverse talent pools. Get involved. Having a great pool to promote, leads to diversity, over time, up and down the ladder.
 LeanIn and SurveyMonkey survey conducted January 23–25, 2018, FMI: https://leanin.org/sexual-harassment-backlash-survey-results/
Originally published at https://www.impactseat.com on February 9, 2018.