Editorial: JUST DON’T DO IT
Patrick FlanneryFeatures Business Intelligence
Guys, it’s long past time to stop treating women like they aren’t equals.
I was at a trade show booth recently with a female co-worker who is a happily married professional with 12 years’ experience in media sales. An attendee at the show stopped and asked about the magazine. His next question was whether she was the centrefold. He also managed to slip in a suggestion that the two of them should have dinner later. We did the thing of treating it as a joke with strained laughter, but after he left my blood began to boil. My friend shrugged it off with the comment that this happens all the time and she’s used to it. Not good.
Not long before that I had seen a post on LinkedIn from a rental store telling the story of a customer that came in with a technical problem. When he was greeted by a female staff member, he immediately suggested she should refer him to a man who might know the equipment better. To that store’s eternal credit, the manager told him she was probably the best person in the store to help him and the store owner put out an indignant post about the incident expressing his support for the women who work in the rental industry.
Perhaps the guy at the trade show thought he was being complimentary or “just joking.” Let me explain why that excuse doesn’t work (since apparently the millions of explanations published over the last 100 years haven’t sunk in with some people). Making flirtatious comments to my co-worker, having only just met her, sent the clear message that he had no interest in or respect for her role with our company or her expertise as a professional in it. Instead, it placed the focus on something that makes her different from him. When people in groups are identified as being somehow different, the psychological fact is they are in a weakened position. On the defensive. The effect, however the comment is intended, is to demean the person and undermine respect for them.
If the guy was smitten and looking for love, he might have glanced at her ring finger before making his move. Or looked around and realized he was in a trade show and not a bar. Doing otherwise in a place of business sends the clear signal that you don’t think the person is worth doing business with. Even if that’s true, it’s hardly polite to communicate it on short acquaintance…and highly unlikely to get a romantic reaction.
The broader effect on women who might otherwise consider working in this industry is the infuriating part. Who wants to work where they’re going to be made to feel different, lesser, never fully one of the gang? Where people will single you out for a trait you share with 50 percent of the population and focus on that instead of what you bring to the business? It has to stop.
Some men seem to find it very difficult to understand how they should communicate with women if they aren’t allowed to do it in these terms. It makes me wonder about their upbringing, but that’s a longer topic. Instead, I’ll offer a very concrete bit of advice that will keep you out of trouble 99 times out of 100. Just run what you’re going to say through a very simple filter: would you say it to a man with your grandmother in the room? If not, don’t say it or say something else.
And, guys, if any of you are actually still dragging around antiquated notions that women somehow shouldn’t be in the industry or are deserving of poor treatment if they are, well, you’ve lost. It’s over. History has spoken. Women are your equals and expressing feelings to the contrary, in any way, will only make you and your company look like idiots.
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