Sexism is still alive and well

Discussion
May 21, 2018
Laura Davis-Taylor

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine. This commentary is a response to Warren Thayer’s column, “Honoring Women,” in the April issue of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

My mother taught me that while you can do whatever you decide to do, never let people see you sweat and, for God’s sake, don’t cry in business. E-V-E-R. So that’s the advice I followed — and still do. But because there’s always been a lack of advice on how to deal with workplace sexism, I researched for a book on the topic.

To avoid bias, I crowdsourced feedback from “successful” women, promising confidentiality. It was immediately clear that if you’ve climbed the ladder, you experienced at least one eyebrow-raising sexism experience. Stories conclude with, “can you BELIEVE he did that?” Nine times out of 10, the women didn’t dare complain — stories of groping, taunting, solicitations from married men and overt promotion pass-overs were all locked away.

Almost every time I share my research with a male colleague, I hear, “That doesn’t really happen anymore.” I would counter with story after story — including my own — and they’re always shocked. Which is exactly why we need to talk about it more. It’s not out of sight, out of mind. It’s just out of sight.

Face it. There are “cool women” and “those women.” When a man decides a woman in the room is “cool,” he may indulge in locker room conversations and behaviors. But if the woman takes issue, she becomes “one of those” and frozen out of the inner circle.

All women deal with being left out of important meetings in a club (cough, of the gentlemen’s variety), on a golf course, into happy hour. Bro-bonding and boardroom decisions are made and the lady exec gets “filled in” the next day.

I’ve had a boss stick a finger in my face and tell me to sit in a corner and only speak when he told me to. I’ve had my salary cut 40 percent and told not to tell anyone. I’ve had SVPs compare my hair to a famous porn star (in front of a room full of people). Sorry, none of these things would happen to a man — and they shouldn’t happen to anyone.

Yet, sadly, when a woman with an axe to grind tells lies and invents an incident, more havoc can be wrecked on culture, trust and overarching company ethics than five men combined. Such incidents knock women backward and hurt our credibility.

Enlightened men could (and should) help change the world for women; there are women so mired in insecurity and a hunger to rule that they leave dead bodies in their wake.

To change the status quo we must talk about the status quo — openly, non-judgmentally and with an eye to genuine progress. Men and women need to take ownership of their roles in this problem and be part of the solution.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are companies succeeding in reducing sexism in the workplace or is it still unsafe for women to openly report issues without personal repercussions? What’s holding back open discussions among both genders?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I’m encouraged by the new willingness of women to call out this kind of behavior!"
"...the fact remains that there are a lot of MCPs out there whose behavior won’t be affected by a corporate seminar. "
"...it’s not just women who should call-out inappropriate behavior. It’s the responsibility of every person."

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20 Comments on "Sexism is still alive and well"


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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Every woman has stories like this. Every woman has been in a meeting where she has suggested an action to take, is shot down, and then when that same action is suggested by a man, it’s approved. I’m encouraged by the new willingness of women to call out this kind of behavior, though!

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I am not sure I understand all the “thumbs down” to so many comments. It must go to show as a group we share in sexism and there is a long way to go to even get to see a finish line.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Great comments, Cathy! We ALL need to refuse to accept bad behavior from others — especially those in leadership positions!

Art Suriano
Guest
I think it’s fair to say that companies overall have made some progress in reducing sexism in the workplace. The problem is that is not nearly enough. I see three reasons as to why: Fear, denial and stupidity. Fear prevents people from speaking out and having, as the article says, open discussion. Today too many people are afraid of what is politically correct and what they should or can say so they don’t speak out because they are fearful of saying something perhaps they shouldn’t. Denial is prevalent in many workplaces because those very guilty of mistreating women don’t see it, understand it and don’t agree with it. They may think they’re funny when making inappropriate remarks or worse yet, only playing when forcing some physical contact on a woman. And lastly, stupidity which is a big issue for the many men who don’t understand sexism and how harmful it is and frankly the few women that allow it without any pushback which only causes the man to continue. We need discussion and an open… Read more »
Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
2 years 2 months ago

“Face it. There are ‘cool women” and “those women.’” – For me, this quote hits the nail on the head. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve let comments and situations that I found horrifying slide just for the sake of remaining in the “inner circle.” The battle between standing up and saying something and risk being shut out of the “boys club” or brushing it off and letting it haunt you is a battle I think almost every woman goes through in their career.

But it is important to talk about sexism in the workplace. Unfortunately, it’s not just men who think, “That doesn’t really happen anymore.” I’ve spoken with women who believe that the sexism battle was fought and won already. And it’s true a lot of progress has been made. But there’s still a long way to go, and that starts with having these hard conversations.

Rick Moss
Staff

I agree, Meaghan, that many men think that inviting women into their boys club demonstrates inclusiveness, when in most cases it gives them excuses to carry on bad behavior.

I think it’s important to take the recommendation of having conversations literally. I expect that many companies have conducted staff meetings to reconfirm company policies, but sitting in an auditorium watching a Powerpoint presentation won’t have nearly the effectiveness of facilitating small group conversations so that men and women talk to one another about what’s happening and what needs to happen.

Gareth Keenan
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

This happens to men as well. Many years ago, on a first-day lunch with the CEO, a colleague walks up and the CEO shares a story of time with a prostitute. I didn’t say anything, and it’s bothered me ever since. I chose to be a “cool guy” but it’s not cool.

Rick Moss
Staff

I understand your point, Gareth. Certainly, I can sympathize with being in that situation when someone takes advantage of his position of power to behave in a disgraceful manner. But I don’t believe it equates to what a woman would feel if present under the same circumstances. Men often experience a range of emotions — distaste, embarrassment, etc. I can imagine women experience that plus a whole lot worse.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust
When I was 16, I worked at a drive-thru espresso bar. The married, 30-something owner would grill me about the intimate details of my personal life when we were in a tiny room together. I soon found out he had an affair with the last 16-year old who worked there and when I said that those conversations made me uncomfortable, I stopped getting hours. This theme has continued and been amplified in my adult life: I’ve heard comments on my chest size, questions about my tattoos and fielded many a question about whether I was married, single, free that night, etc. My birthday was over the weekend and many of the “Happy Birthday” messages that I received were centered around my appearance. Whenever a man whose work I respect invites me out for a drink or for coffee, I try to suss out their intentions. Will it be a professional connection or lively discussion that awaits me, or will I be fielding uncomfortable advances all night? Of course, this is just the tip of the… Read more »
Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

No matter how much the #MeToo movement has raised awareness, and no matter how often HR departments conduct company-wide training on these issues — the fact remains that there are a lot of MCPs out there whose behavior won’t be affected by a corporate seminar. (Google it if you’re too young to be familiar with the acronym.) So there isn’t a simple solution to the problem unless the victims of sexism consistently report it — and unless sympathetic witnesses call it out too. Easier said than done, I know, but the problem won’t solve itself.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

In a past life I was one of the “cool women” who became “one of those” when I reported something particularly foul that was said to me. It was the late ’80s and back then there wasn’t even a precedent on what to do.

Laura is correct when she writes that none of these things would happen to a man; because it doesn’t happen to men is why we’re still talking about it in 2018.

It won’t be okay until we all — men and women — actually do something to fix it. It’s time for all of us to stand up and say something, stand up for each other, and say enough.

Gareth Keenan
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

This stuff happens to men as well. I’m surprised that you can’t believe that. I shared a story of mine in a reply to an earlier comment.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I’m sorry that it happened to you, Gareth. Sexism shouldn’t happen to anyone.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

Appreciated this read. As often as there is overt sexism in the workplace, the covert forms are so prevalent, and require significant empathy and bias training that one-day seminars aren’t going to solve. I suppose that’s what is intriguing by Starbucks’ “implicit-bias training day.” Across the board, we seem to have moved somewhere in between the stages of “Inappropriate conversations or incidents persist, and are encouraged or supported by leadership” and “Inappropriate conversations occur, and the leader responds by removing themselves from the conversation.” A lot of amazing talent is being suppressed and underutilized, and when the leader(s) train on these opportunities proactively and consistently, they can begin working to eradicate the culture that propels overt and covert forms of harassment and discrimination.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I have read the comments posted prior to this and fully agree with them. My thought: It is time for us, as men and more importantly, as gentlemen stand up and say “that’s wrong,” “that’s enough” when a sexist or wrong comment is made to or about a woman in our presence. Women should not have to carry this alone. We need to show our support and be a part of it. Enough should be enough.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

We are still focused on sexism the more we differentiate “men” and “women.” We are all people, and our approach should be gender neutral. Our discussions, reports and positions should reflect a gender neutral position in the company, as should all decisions. As soon as we identify one sex over another we are sliding down a slippery slope from which we cannot gain traction. Instead we should be employees, people, associates, assistants, managers, etc. By removing any reference to sex, we eliminate all of the issues of gender, sexism and the bias these represent in the workplace.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“… and well.” What an odd way to describe something which, presumably, we all want to see eliminated. Ms. Davis-Taylor was short on even anecdotes about trends, so I’ve nothing to go on in giving a progress report, but if I may comment on her remarks: she seems to be lumping together an overly broad category of behaviors — from the criminal (being assaulted) to what might be called (office) political (not being promoted). I think it would be more productive if we looked at them separately … as indeed the law does.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

The important thing to consider is that while there is much more momentum on these important issues today, no one should drift towards complacency or we risk the conversation ending prematurely before real change takes hold. I’d agree that progress is being made, but it’s a long overdue beginning with much more openness and discussion required to reach tangible solutions with no risk to anyone who speaks out.

Jim McElroy
Guest

I certainly think and hope that the current wave of firings and public embarassment is having the desired impact. But instead of more training or discussion, I believe we just need continued action to challenge and apply consequences to offenders. Leaders of organizations at all levels need to walk the talk.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

We all have cognitive bias that affects how we perceive things. To suggest these things don’t happen to men is wrong. And, it’s not just sex. It’s color, politics, gender, nationality and about anything else you can imagine; slimy people look for ways to manipulate and dispose of others.

Furthermore, it’s not just women who should call-out inappropriate behavior. It’s the responsibility of every person.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I’m encouraged by the new willingness of women to call out this kind of behavior!"
"...the fact remains that there are a lot of MCPs out there whose behavior won’t be affected by a corporate seminar. "
"...it’s not just women who should call-out inappropriate behavior. It’s the responsibility of every person."

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