Sexual Harassment – Where did that come from? An opinion piece by Susanne Schuler Part 1

A Powerful Dilemma

After the sexual harassment incidents coming out of Hollywood, The British BBC, Oxfam and other overseas aid charities, as well as British Parliament, is it time to take a closer look at sexual harassment looking through the lenses of culture and bias?

Sexual Harassment Susanne Schuler

One perspective over the last 40 years has been to see the complexity of gender inclusion in the workplace as a dilemma i.e. Gender neutrality v A currency of feminine traits and attributes.

And, hovering above this dilemma, we can there is an overbearing and constant factor – Hierarchical POWER, acting as a contributing force and colouring the majority of incidents that we are now seeing come to the surface.

Let’s take a look at the component parts of the Gender inclusion dilemma?

Does our history as women of being given lesser roles and, often, having a male boss as the recruiter, decider or allocator of tasks, make a difference, and, what can we expect in the work place?

Dilemma Side One – Gender neutrality – This progressive movement aims to update the workplace from being historically divided, between breadwinning men and factory working / menial working / care working women, to a modern, gender neutral meritocracy.

The new paradigm aims will recognise talent and ability and be blind to gender (and class, privilege, sexual orientation, physical ability, beauty, colour etc. by extension.)

Let us start with a now famous example started with large US orchestras in the 1980’s. Analysis of the top orchestras revealed that less than 5% of the players were female. What was going on?

Was bias present in the auditioning process, preventing women being selected?

In a pragmatic change in the design of the audition space, players were asked to perform behind a screen so judges had to focus purely on their playing before making the hire / pass decision. This alone changed the game and produced a vast improvement in the offering of orchestra positions to female musicians. An interesting extra facet of unconscious bias was uncovered during these trials. The sound of women’s and man’s shoes and their walk as they took up their places to play behind the screen gave something away. Was the sound of their step keeping the recruitment process from becoming optimally meritocratic? With this in mind, some auditions were tweaked with the applicants being asked to remove their shoes before taking up their position to play behind the screen. And so, US orchestras changed their gender balance fundamentally over the following decade.

Bias – Where did it start?

The facts of implicit association have been put beyond doubt by swathes of research proving that more than 70% of us hold a negative association between being female and fulfilling the tasks required for some specific work roles. You may test yourself now – The normal trigger role (reacted to by both male and female subjects) used to illustrate this is…. That of having a female pilot when you are a passenger.

Way back when

2,500 years ago Greek medicine ascribed people’s behaviour and character to the homours in their bodies. A larger quantity of blood, yellow bile, black bile or phlegm would make them sanguine, melancholic, choleric or phlegmatic.

In a similar Greek vein, the uterus or hystera was seen as producing, in women, hysterical symptoms and behaviours – anxiety, irritability or sexually forward behaviour.

Fast-forward 2000+ years. Sigmund Freud moved hysteria out of the uterus. He posited that it was being caused, instead, by emotional trauma and both sexes being prone to this condition (Note; the majority of his subjects were female.)

And now, in the modern workplace – Bias is seen in the design of work, the allocation of roles to gender, and, an the design of a specific economic levels of employment intended for either male and female workers.

I was working with a senior European expat recently who had vast HR responsibilities in Russia. He talked of overseeing 10’s of factories full of women. I challenged him and asked why the majority of jobs were carried out by female staff. His reply was shockingly honest. The factories were set up to use cheap labour meaning that one job and salary could not support a family. THEREFORE only women applied!

Roles haven’t moved that far in the last 100 years – The breadwinner is thought of as the soldier action hero, the protector; a muscular and sensible figure that can be relied upon. Many “fill in” female targeted jobs are designed to top up income and are deliberately built to be lesser in status, excitement and financial reward.

The gender divide in roles has been pretty much constant over the last 150 years with the exception of the First and Second World Wars, when women were asked to fulfil a much more expansive brief in all areas of industry, government and community whilst the men were away at the front.

Power and vulnerability – Capping economic levels, decision making power and designing a workplace where men are in charge has creating deliberate financial dependence for women on their breadwinner husbands and workplace bosses in an ecosystem that, on reflection, seemed ripe and ready for sexual exploitation.

Dilemma Side Two – The currency of feminine attributes and traits – There exists a parallel employment universe and marketplace, where the perceived attributes of women attract a particular and welcome reward. We are not talking about the Florence Nightingale based fallacy that women are the born carers who should sacrifice their personal needs for cash, status and acknowledgement in order to clean, care and serve.

Researchers and academics, Karina Doorley and Eva Sierminska talk of a Beauty Premium providing greater differentiated salaries, at the lower levels of work, for those with specifically ascribed beauty traits (when compared with those where these traits are not present.)

Young Hollywood actresses and corporate interns may occupy this space. Those that are objectively considered beautiful are found to have more than those that aren’t. This applies to career prospects, pay, partnering with wealthier men and encountering less resistance in a number of specific work tasks. Beauty is opening doors in the workplace.

The downside of the beauty premium is some of those doors lead to hotel bedrooms.

With beauty comes greater exposure to being pursued, abused and harassed sexually.

Beyond beauty, we quickly get into controversy – are generalised female behaviours actually a gender issue representing a valid and true difference – Men are from Mars etc., or are they a social construct resulting from 150 years of forced social, sexual and economic gender compliance policed and encouraged by parenting, education, the media and peer group pressure?

POWER – Overriding the dilemma above, is the historically dominant economic position – ownership of assets, enjoyment of access to work opportunities and preferential promotions to management roles of… men. Think corporate boards, Government, public bodies, media and education.

Clubbable men have held the reins for centuries.

Now, for their own specific reasons, they are not currently considering surrendering their privilege for the sake of fairness, equality, or, the pursuit of gender balance. Whatever you hear, they are not going to “budge over a bit” without a fight.

(There are one or two work areas that represent refreshing exceptions when it comes to female v male numbers in work – qualified doctors in medicine, the number of successful female fiction authors and successful high selling female recording artists.)

The world, as a whole though, is dominated by men when measured in terms of assets, cash (income and financial wealth), property, power and peer-to-peer help and access.

Power, abuse and the abuse of power – holding the means to inherited wealth, commercial wealth creation, career progression, and having the law on your side (an antediluvian male throw back), has lead to vast and wide ranging powers for men, specifically over women, and, the abuse of power manifest in the harassment of women in the workplace.

Please like, share and do add your constructive comment. Thanks.

End of Part 1.

In Part 2, next time; What do we see happening? And, What is to be done?

Author Profile – Susanne Schuler is a mediator, trainer and coach with CEDR – The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution – The most successful Mediation Service in the UK. Her book, Intercultural Mediation, is available via bookboon. Click on the link;

https://bookboon.com/en/intercultural-mediation-at-work-ebook

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Eat Prey Grope Resign – No Love

When will Sexual Harassment stop?

Pandora’s Box is currently open and what is being released seems ugly yet disturbingly obvious. To an extent, we all share a common feeling of shame at semi – knowing the news coming out about sexual abuse already.

It has taken a while to emerge because we have collectively created a hostile environment of judgement and name calling, where the victims of abuse carried out by powerful men are made to feel afraid and hesitant about coming forward. There was nowhere to hide. Now there is #metoo. Before today, there was only the fear of public ridicule, of another close encounter in a lift or of suffering career aspiration damage.

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes are up there. And now Kevin Spacey, Louis CK and a stream of unsavoury characters from British Parliament are emerging to upset us further. Again, it is less the shock, rather the confirmation of our collective semi-knowing of the on-going and systemic abuse of position, power and privilege.

Sexual Harassment

“Let’s talk”

No longer can we comfort ourselves that this was mostly just weird victimless perversion, the vice of old men with silk ropes and whips. Now with the #metoo campaign, the victims have found their collective voice. The people are now listening and this will be a day of reckoning for some.

Utopia

Can we dream of a better world now? Would it be that difficult for the elite to give up their political and financial dominance in order to quash a grotesque trade in requests for sexual access in return for career opportunity?

Obviously those holding the power seem to think so. Vast money and airtime are being spent perpetuating myths around the benefits of young women and powerful old men continuing to work together with all the associated side deals staying in place. Perhaps a simple and healthy alternative narrative is too terrifying and threatening for them to contemplate.

Imagine a world that is economically gender neutral and, in particularly, where jobs are deemed gender free – women can be plumbers, top chefs and physicists, men can be dancers and nurses and no one blinks.

That would take a big shift in our collective memory, overturning a vast vault made up of millions of exposures to belittling sentences, limiting judgements and gender stereotyping images coming at us via press, TV and film.

Imagine a world where the household chores are distributed evenly. A world where care work, domestic work or work traded for salaries were valued as equally significant, equally valid and equally worthy of acknowledgement.

Sweat Box

The flip side benefit of this would move beyond Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” where women are subtly asked to become more like men and fill the boardroom with mini – Margaret Thatchers. Instead the testosterone count would be replaced by a pleasant creative and innovating environment where thought based productivity replaced stressed robotic computer terminal template filling sitting silently in a soul destroying open plan office the size of half a football pitch.

Symptoms

How do we know we have not got it right? Sexist banter, prejudice, Christmas party transgressions, the trade in career enhancement for sexual favours, the casting couch, the old propositioning the young simply because the job market is tight and competitive and they can, and the concept of allowing groping hands in the company lift continuing to be justified with, “That is how you get ahead.”

And there is man-splaining (Rebecca Solnit), man-spreading, the hostile work environment – interruptions, dominance and deafness, and something I frequently witness in offices – the small number of women in a team being expected to make the coffee, print out documents and show visitors to meeting rooms.

Hope

Before we jump off a collective cliff of hopelessness, let us remember that school leavers, are the future of work and many of them seem to be getting it. No longer is casual sexism or homophobia acceptable or cool. When my son pointed out that some epithets would not longer go unchallenged amongst his peer group, I was mildly surprised as well as being heartened and encouraged.

Cause

Our collective parenting has yet to change from bringing up boys to be the little tough guy, overtly manly (& praying that they turn out straight.) And bringing up girls to be pink princesses groomed to lead a fairy tale life of motherhood within wedded bliss with wedding day planning lasting for all of their remembered childhood. And, all this flying in the face of data, our own repeated disappointment, and the cumulative evidence of life experience.

Who benefits from women cleaning and caring? Who benefits from white middle class males dominating the corporate world as well as the higher echelons of education, medicine, all religions and local and national Government?

The bastion of white male privilege is holding fast and shows no signs of being swayed by equality laws, the moral outrage of oppressed group’s or the findings of employment tribunals (recently put out of reach for the majority with the introduction of a £1,200 starter fee in the UK.)

The Current Narrative

Do we know just how 1950’s our current gender story is? When we see Mad Men / Stepford Wives, we laugh at the simpering simplicity of their lot. But have modern TV, film and social media characters really changed that much in the last 65 years? Screenwriter for When Harry Met Sally, Nora Ephron often spoke of the paucity of female character definition in the majority of successful mainstream films with the oft repeated phrases, “What is going on?”, “You don’t understand me” and, “We don’t seem to talk any more.”

One Million Images

One Million Images

Geena Davis is commissioning research and making a documentary to point out the staggering gender imbalance in modern films (Men have twice the airtime and talking time of women in mainstream Hollywood film releases.) And 96% of the biggest films where directed by men.

If you believe TV (please don’t), the life choices women are asked to make are between nurse, beauty queen, tough and sacrificing executive or home maker / baby maker.

And, the gritty reality of suburbia is actually worse! multi-generational nappy changing and taxi driving are moving up the job description.

Status Quo

Males are dominant in the economy and make the majority of the decisions that have the power to either maintain the current set up or exchange it for a more inclusive and profitable gender balanced economic future.

But there seems little or no incentive for them to do so.

It is like the Swiss Canton referendum in Appenzell, where it took until 1971 to enfranchise local women because…ONLY MEN COULD VOTE.

You can't hurry equality

You can’t hurry equality!

A Future Worth Having

Nothing will change until the narrative moves up. We need to see thousands and thousands and thousands of positive images of women in work, women in politics and women in the community portrayed on TV, in film and over Social Media. And those 3 D and robust characters need to be played by women, drawn by women and directed by women.

And let us have merit and not the casting couch as the door opener to career success.

Importantly, in literature this gender rebalancing is already happening. The majority of hit authors are now female – Think of Margaret Attwood, Zadie Smith, Anne Tyler, Donna Tartt, Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer, Jodi Picoult and JK Rowling.

And more growth is needed. Isolated collections of intelligent women working in smaller communities is not going to be enough. This is a mass project requiring serious mobilisation. And this means and includes YOU. The necessary amplification of a healthy gender narrative needs to be significant.

A final thought.

And whilst we have your attention, can I ask you a challenging question? And, it won’t make you feel great. Sorry.

What subtle choices have you made today that, as you review them now – make you realise that you have helped contribute to the continued suppression of women in the home, the media and in the workplace?

That question is for everybody.

We can take 3 more generations to get the necessary shift to occur or we can start today. It is up to me and it is up to you.

Author Profile – Matthew Hill works with diverse groups of corporate executives in more than 30 countries to raise awareness of positive difference and to support inclusion in the workplace.

Unconscious Bias and the Police in the USA with Elmer Dixon

What are we Attributing AND to Whom?

This 17 Minute Facebook Live session is a kick off piece launching Elmer’s SIETAR USA session in Tulsa on 9th November, his general courses and his work with the Police.

Catch the film here;

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10154489285454870&id=577094869

Profile – Elmer Dixon runs Executive Diversity Services in Seattle, USA.

elmer-dixon

Culture, not just quotas, for better boardroom diversity An Opinion Piece by CEDR’s Kathryn Bradley

CEDR's Kathryn Bradley

CEDR’s Kathryn Bradley

According to the latest report published by the government this week, the gender ratio of FTSE 100 boards has reached a milestone, with 25% of board members now being women, an achievement credited to  the voluntary efforts made by such organisations to actively recruit board members to balance the gender gap. Whilst this number represents a significant increase over the last few years (from 12.5% in 2011), we shouldn’t be rushing to extol the virtues of gender quotas, tick the diversity box as a fait accompli and sit down to a celebratory cup of tea just yet.

Whilst Lord Davies’ report calls for an extension of these voluntary quotas, playing the numbers game can only hope to answer part of the problem. There seem to be two big issues that it is currently failing to address:

  1. The Cult of Board Culture– The latest US Republican debate provided a perfect example of what can happen when a homogenous (on the face of it at least) group of powerful men (and one woman) come together to argue their opinion and establish their superiority as potential future leaders of the free world. The irony of it was that the more they tried to compete for the airtime to demonstrate their leadership prowess, the more I feared that any of them would ever find themselves in the ultimate position of power. One of the most common complaints we hear from women in senior and executive leadership roles is not so much the homogeneity of gender but the absolute homogeneity of leadership, negotiating  and conflict styles that permeate the environment within the walls of the boardroom and govern the unspoken code of conduct at that most exclusive of tables. The all-powerful nature of such a culture means that many feel the need to ‘assimilate to survive’. This competitive, fist banging, who-can-shout-louder way of operating can mean some women find it very challenging to find an authentic way to integrate without losing themselves or their voice and we often hear of women who upon achieving the most senior positions come under fire for becoming too ‘Alpha’. I’ve even heard it said that this uncomfortable paradox is putting some women off aspiring to Board-level positions – a sad fact which no amount of quotas can fix! Many claim that more women on the board will be the automatic panacea to transform this culture into something much more inclusive and effective… I’m not so confident.
  2. Culture of Difference– It seems rightly uncontested that organisational diversity has a direct, transformative impact on the effectiveness and success of teams and leaders by encouraging and facilitating difference and embracing the creative conflict that this difference can generate resulting in the generation new ideas and the improvement of established ways of working. This is more than just a nice to have. Without this diversity we expose ourselves to homogenised ‘group think’ and significantly a higher risk of corporate scandal and even crime due to an inability of an organisation to effectively criticise, hold itself accountable or even see the issues as they arise. I wonder if the latest Volkswagen emissions scandal would have been allowed to happen if this culture of difference had existed amongst its senior leaders? Whilst it might have helped, I’m not sure a gender quota of 25% women would have been quite enough alone to prevent a global organisation turning a blind eye to its own decisions and actions. Gender is a crucial area to consider, but its only one aspect of human difference; an easy visible line to draw and make tangible through measurements and quotas. If we genuinely want to see organisational diversity that reflects the diversity of British society then we need to look beyond the obvious to embrace all aspects of difference, something which quotas are unlikely to achieve.

In summary, quotas are proving to be an important tool on the road to achieving organisational diversity but they are not the magic bullet people might be looking for or even the token activity they might be hoping to hide behind. If we want real, positive diversity in our executive teams, we also need to empower those in leadership roles at every level to embrace and encourage a culture of constructively challenging the norms, actively listening to those singing a different tune rather than shouting to be the loudest, and to shed the unshakeable habit of seeing conflict as something to be feared and avoided at all costs.

These are my thoughts…I’d love to hear yours.

Kathryn Bradley is a Programme and Project Manager at CEDR – the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. CEDR is the UK’s largest provider of mediation training and services. www.cedr.com

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