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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Independent Trainer Mini Series – What does your BRAND say about you? Blog post 3 by Matthew Hill

Your Audience OWN your reputation. Take a sip of water to deal with the shock. And now read on… Continue reading

Independent intercultural trainers and coaches – What are you planning for 2016?

The season for the social gathering of trainers and coaches is about to begin. There will be some wonderful events. And, as the red wine flows half of the trainers and coaches in any group will start to quietly complain – about the number of days they got this year, the fees they received per subcontract day and how their income is not necessarily keeping up with rent or the cost of bringing up children.

Happy family in autumn park

“We are happy and have enough money!!!”

The truth is, independent trainers and coaches risk getting caught in a 5-part trap.

  1. Discounts – Volume training providers are paying subcontractors an ever decreasing amount of training money in real terms. The promise of volume attracts high potential individuals who sacrifice a lot of time and a little pride to travel hard, work hard but not necessarily to earn hard.
  1. Scarcity of time – Following on from cheap training days, the downward spiral demands sacrificing more of your 200 days a year to delivering discounted training, leaving less time to develop your own ideas for outstanding training material, to build your own network and to win your own customers.
  1. Brand – The more time you spend as a subcontractor the less opportunity you are taking to develop, what is potentially, your most valuable attribute – you, your brand, your reputation and a healthy market perception of your value (which is PREMIUM in case you needed reminding!)
  1. Assets – When you use other people’s material you are gaining valuable experience but you are not necessarily spending time creating your own capital assets. You are not creating training products that stand as INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY – ones that attract a premium fee from quality customers.
  1. Networking – With each flight, train or car journey coming back from a distant subcontract customer you are giving away your travel time for free and missing the opportunity to build your social and professional connections in a way that will generate better income.

Don’t get me wrong. A blend of subcontract days with premium direct training days provides an amazing variety of experience, a great income and the opportunity to do more of what you love. My point is simple. Most people slide into the trap of too much subcontract and not enough premium. Or… No premium days at all!

All this can change. The post headline enquires as to your plans for 2016. As part of your relaxing downtime with family and friends over the Christmas break, will you be thinking of up scaling and upgrading your business next year? Will you be taking out your pen and Moleskine and making ambitious plans? And will these plans convert into solid actions? And will these actions result in getting paid more for delivering premium training days?

There are many suggestions and insights that can help. Here are just three?

  1. Create a Product for Prospects – Take the time to write a white paper, executive briefing document or community resource that will be appreciated by your target market. Put it on a website or in a newsletter and ask a small action in return – request an e mail or entering the prospect’s first name and e mail in a box. This simple trade moves your prospect from observer to light action taker.
  1. Market not product – By making a subtle shift away from talking about the unique qualities of YOU it is possible to engage with more senior decision makers (as opposed to battling with middle ranking L&D professionals that only have the power to say “No!” and not the insight to sponsor you within their organisation.) Invest effort in looking at the bigger picture and collect irresistible data and stories that will be of genuine interest to business heads. Engage them in adult debate about market threats and challenges. This will give you the opportunity to position your offering as a solution to their current pain.
  1. Charge more – The moment your start to value yourself more highly, the market will increase their perceived value of you as well. It is time to stop the scarcity script and acknowledge your own incredible depth of experience and charge accordingly…

When you think about it, €20,000 would make quite a difference to you next year. €10,000 would make a difference to you next year. For many independent trainers, €5,000 extra would make a difference next year. That is only TWO premium training days!

If the Intercultural Training Channel Community are interested in this topic, I will expand its prominence in the newsletter over the coming months. Ideas include concrete suggestions for improving your consultative selling skills, webinars that tackle the specific marketing, networking and selling issues you face and running more Consultative Selling Boot Camps in both Amsterdam and London in 2016.

Please feel free to indicate your level of interest, and tell me what particular topics would be of most value to you. It will be great to be guided by the reader as to the topics you wish to learn about. I look forward to hearing from you.

E-mail me at matthew.hill@hillnetworks.com