Not my father’s (work)place
Growing up I was exposed to textbook gender stereotypes and that’s why I know we can defeat them.
Stereotypes are complicated. Many appear so deeply embedded in our psyche, they all but link to our very DNA. The good news is that while it doesn’t feel like it on the micro level of our daily lives, they are changing and in some cases dying the death of a thousand cuts. The bad news is that evolution moves slowly, sometimes so slowly that we don’t notice it.
My parents were the very definition of Blue Collar Stereotypes when I was growing up. Mom was a secretary, Dad a mechanic. It was the 80’s and let’s be clear, they didn’t push any boundaries with the exception of the rare occasion when my dad cleaned the kitchen (to show us how wrong we were all doing it).
Mom dressed in business clothes and high heels, Dad wore coveralls and steel toed boots. They were all but colour coded to Blue and Pink in their gender positioning in my early years.
As a kid I was a consummate tomboy. Dirty hands, skinned knees, and messy hair were commonplace in my world. Trying to keep me tidy was something everyone seemed to give up on early in my life and I was happy that way.
I was the youngest of three girls and my dad wanted a boy. When I was born a girl and all boy child hope was lost, instead of accepting it and sending me to the house with my mom and sisters, I became his shadow.
I owned new Tonka Trucks alongside hand me down Barbies and each day after kindergarten and followed him around job sites, parts suppliers, and into the shop at work. I was comfortable in his world of men and grease and I wanted to be a mechanic just like him when I was little. Sadly, I was told was not an option for girls. (Thanks Joss Whedon for telling us that isn’t true).
As an impressionable child, I likely should not have been in his shop or trailing around behind him into these caverns of manliness. They were places where naked women adorned calendars and posters on every wall, and swearing, smoking, and trash talking were welcomed. The “ladies” from the office did not come into the shop, and the habits of the shop did not go up front. I swear that the lunchroom between the two was some type of strange genderless purgatory that was regarded as neutral territory where weapons of typewriters and toolboxes had to be surrendered before entering.
Today any Human Resources manager worth their salary would have had a quick conversation with the tool reps about their calendars and posters being unwelcome. There would be rules about what and how we work together and all that swearing and trash talking would likely be covered under a harassment policy.
Our definitions of who can be what and how they go about it is not what it was then, we just haven’t noticed the micro movements of evolution. The place and way my father worked is a relic, just like the idea that men should do one thing and women another.
What this tells me is that A LOT has already changed and we are just getting started. The progress shows me that while slow, it exists. We must remember that it took generations (approximately 30–60 years depending on the country) to move the idea of women voting to becoming reality in most of the western world. We cannot hope to change hundreds of years of inequality in minutes, but we can focus on measuring the progress.
As today’s leaders we can ensure tomorrow’s feel welcome, no matter which tools they use on the other side of the lunchroom door.
I recently had an internet debate about the fact that I believe all genders should have a voice in equality discussions. The response was one of fear where my fellow debater talked of power dynamics and how men shouldn’t get a voice in how we treat one another. #EveryVoiceMatters
Today I want to remind you that we have the tools to challenge historical norms and don’t have to be lemmings who follow rules written a hundred years ago.
To really find equality, we need to hear and seek to understand all voices INCLUDING the ones we don’t agree with or don’t look like us.
I work in a heavily male world and have been motivated to study gender and discrimination at a post graduate level, so you could say I am immersed in all shades of grey in this discussion. Professionally, I tend to dress like my mom, and swear like dad….in school I tend to dress like my dad and talk (and type) like my mom.
There is nothing in the world that says you can’t be more than one thing. I can rock the board room, knit myself a scarf, and still have the ability to change the oil in my car. I can’t be put in my place because there is nothing that is off limits to a person with determination and cognitive horsepower like me. The truth is that being put in place only exists in our heads if we let it. It’s a relic just like those calendars hanging in the workshop of my memories.
The most impactful lesson about beating stereotypes in my time so far has been that we get so much further with curiosity than we do with attacks.
Some questions we could use to better understand the other people we interact with:
- Are all the people with the same role paid the same?
2. Why would this room have no men/women/diverse genders/varied races/ages/countries of origin etc.?
3. Is there another analogy that can be used to tell the story?
4. Why did you not treat that person with respect?
How do you question unconscious bias in your world?