I wrote an article about gender bias and its impact on a business's bottom line a while back, but it dawned on me that people aren't particularly keen on diving into weighty pieces that demand more than 6 minutes of their precious time.
Taking a page from another writer on Medium, I decided to spread awareness through my own real-life escapades, sprinkled with a touch of humor for good measure.
Gender Inequity & the Labels I Bear
Firstly, let’s be clear that gender inequity isn’t just about those pesky pay gaps although that is an ongoing issue; it's also about the marvelous phenomenon of masculine confidence triumphing over competence. As a petite 5'2" Asian woman, I often find myself entering the scene with a pre-approved label: submissive, quiet, and apparently ready to be everyone's doormat. When I demonstrate the same behavior by speaking up, my male colleague gets the crown of glory, while my neat little label of “submissive” suddenly morphs into “feisty bitch.”
And if that weren’t enough, I am also caught up in the whirlwind of ageism. Yes, I've been graced with the eternal youth gene, appearing a good 20 years younger than my actual age (no exaggeration, promise). But guess what? It's not the fountain of youth; it's the fountain of "let's pile on more abuse because she seems too young to notice." And then, just when you think you've got it all figured out, they throw in a curveball – "Wow, she sure sounds more mature than she looks." Well, let’s just chalk that up to arrogance, shall we? Do we even want her around?
Benevolent Sexism in the Boardroom
Now, let's not forget the classic hit, benevolent sexism! This is where some fine folks, often the knights in shining armor of the workplace, decide to treat their female colleagues with kindness and consideration, all the while thinking, “Oh, here's a gold star for being a woman, but sorry, the corner office and raise are for non-female only.”
Not long ago, I found myself in a company where I was the sole female, quite the unicorn at a donkey convention, if you will. During our weekly meetings, it felt like a parade of executive bragging rights. They'd proudly announce tasks that hadn't seen the light of day in ages, conveniently skip over those that were due weeks ago, and perform this impressive verbal gymnastics routine.
Every week, I dared to break the mold and presented my work with all the action verbs, execution flair, and actual results. The silence that followed was so thick you could cut it with a spork. And each week, just as I thought I'd made a colossal mistake, the CEO chimed in, as if he’d pulled out the dusty old script from his back pocket, and uttered, "Great work. Okay, who's next?" Ah, the sweet sound of equality in action, right? For those of you title enthusiasts,it’s worth noting that I held the lowest rank among the bunch, all while delivering the most work and tangible results.
Compliments and obligatory acknowledgment may be nice, but if they don't come with actual opportunities for career growth, they're about as useful as an umbrella in a submarine.
Unconscious Bias Much?
Ah, the delightful world of unconscious bias! It's that magical phenomenon where your brain decides to make judgments about people and things without your permission or knowledge. It's like your brain's secret little party, and guess what? You're not even on the guest list!
Unconscious bias can work its mischief in the workplace, making us treat people in bizarre ways, evaluate their work through distorted lenses, and make decisions that are more unpredictable than a game of musical chairs. One classic hit in this biased jukebox is the "maternal bias." Because apparently, in the 21st century, we still think women are best suited for nurturing roles and cuddling the office plants. Oh, the wonders of progress!
Back in my Silicon Valley saga and the era of limited PTO, I mustered the courage to approach the CEO with a simple request: a week off. The man, in all his wisdom, closed the door and laid out a proposition that still gives me chills: “If you’d agree to go on a date with my son, you can have all the days off you desire and be reconsidered for the promotion you wanted.”
While shocked and humiliated, I did what any rational human would do; I sprinted to HR for some much-needed enlightenment, only to be met with what can only be described as the HR shrug. Mr. HR strongly believed it was a classic case of CEO kindness, and there was nothing remotely off about it.
Jim Collins' "Good to Great" explores how companies transformed from good to great performers over time, emphasizing the vital role of corporate culture and environment in achieving sustained success. Collins contends that thriving companies place a paramount emphasis on cultivating a culture of discipline—an idea I firmly endorse and champion.
Yet, sustaining any form of discipline becomes an uphill battle when the "boys' club" culture still thrives in numerous businesses. An equitable workplace often feels like nothing more than another buzzword that HR touts with a mix of pride and trepidation. Ironically, many believe they can cloak inequity beneath a facade of politeness, just as they do with benevolent sexism, as mentioned earlier.
In this realm of corporate idiosyncrasies, let's not forget our power to drive change. We can be the voices that echo louder than the outdated "boys' club" whispers. Remember, change often starts with a chuckle, and progress is born from pushing the boundaries of what's considered “normal.”
As for the C-level folks, well, let's challenge them to not just talk the talk but dance the dance because in this new era, every step counts.
I invite all of you to partake in reshaping the corporate landscape into a space where every individual has the opportunity to thrive. Together, let's use humor to challenge bias, call out inequity, and lead the way towards a brighter and more equitable future.