In light of our mantra to be positive, the piece below isn’t intended to represent the negative experiences some women have. Instead, it’s intention is to highlight the unconscious way many of us (females included) act every day. And how we can tackle those biases. What follows here in this intro is my opinion and mine only.
Speaking at an MPavilion event a while ago, one of the audience members asked the question ‘How can I change the men’s-club culture of my 30-something year old peers?’ (largely paraphrased here by me). It’s a question I’m sure many of us ask every day. My response is that it’s actually our responsibility to remain vigilant and ‘pull-up’ people when they say the wrong thing. Many think this is the responsibility of the interestingly termed, ‘male champion’, but if you want something changed, in the wise words of my jazz dance teacher,…’do something about it!’…
How many of us are guilty at laughing along with a joke that offends a minority? I remember when I entered the industry, some of my male peers saying something largely sexist and then saying ‘Oh it’s ok, Danielle can take a joke.’ Yes I can. But having more confidence in my voice now, I no longer see sexism, or racism, or anything else that attacks a minority as a real joke. That’s not being PC. It’s just a case of no longer receiving enjoyment out of seeing others upset, suffering, or voiceless. Our language and our voice is powerful; it’s our individuality, our show of freedom and our way of personal expression. A reflection of our mind. Use it wisely.
Another point raised at the MPavilion was the prevalence of the boy’s club and whether it still exists. Whilst our male panelist argued that at his company, they were very vigilant on this and he believed it was becoming a thing of the past (perhaps at his company it is?), when I asked the audience whether they had ever felt the ‘boy’s club’, the show of hands was, I’d say, near 100% (the show of hands included the smattering of men in the audience). We tend to forget that not fitting in with the male norm, even as a man, you can be excluded from the boy’s club.
So the story below, by Rachel Savio, is a show of casual sexism. And how we can tackle it. I hope you enjoy. And remember you can leave comments below. We love to hear the thoughts of our readers! Conversation is important!
STORY//Accepted as the Norm
I thought I would share a story which I believe highlights some of the issues that I regularly face.
As a Graduate Engineer, I was attending a 2-day workshop with around 25 colleagues – both peers and managers, all of whom were male. Being the only girl in the room did not faze me from the outset, as I have confidence in my abilities, however the fact that I was the only girl in the room was pointed out frequently by the instructor.
This frazzled me a little to begin with but I let it slide, assuming that it was reading too much into it (which is an issue in itself, saved for another time).
At one point, the instructor told a 10 minute story of how there was an issue with a piece of equipment that no one could solve. He divulged that after many weeks, the error was found and the machine began to operate correctly. This was a helpful account of how we could use what we were learning to diagnose issues with equipment and overall it provided learning elements and really added to the course.
Then he made one final comment “Oh and Rachel, you’ll be glad to know that the person who found the error was a female, so that should make you feel happy.”
I was in disbelief. This instructor, in my opinion, had made such a condescending comment that was completely unnecessary. I am an intelligent, diligent and proficient engineer, but this person felt the need to “boost my confidence” by letting me know that a female solved a problem.
After the initial shock, I then realised…. Why did everyone laugh? Why didn’t people react like I did? Did they not realise how horrible that comment was? Do people really think that I am less capable at my job because I am a female? Afterwards I questioned that if instead of “a female”, the trainer pointed out someone’s race, or religion – perhaps “an Indian” solved the problem, or “a Buddhist”, or anything else for that matter. I feel like if this happened, the room would know that it was out of line. But the casual sexism in the room was accepted as the norm.
I brought it up with my managers. Once I explained to them why I thought it was out of line, they understood, but it really shocked me that it required an explanation. I guess what I’m trying to say is, there is the obvious challenges, but then the ones that require a bit more work communicating. We need to make it clear; what is inclusive language, and what isn’t.
I personally believe that if businesses focus on inclusion and not just meeting gender diversity metrics, then the diversity changes that business try to implement will have greater “stick factor”. In essence, simply hiring females will not solve the gender diversity problem if females are made to feel as though they are the unwelcome guest at a men’s-club. In my opinion, the key to achieving gender diversity is to foster a truly inclusive workplace environment where all employees can reach their full potential.
Rachel happens to be Danielle’s sister. As sisters they have both chosen to work in challenging fields, which are male dominated. Rachel has a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering/Science double degree from The University of Melbourne with First Class Honours in Chemical Engineering. During her time at university, Rachel completed a semester abroad at the University of Michigan.
In 2012 Rachel was awarded the Pratt Prize and the Jacobs Prize for the Best Final Year Design Project in Victoria and Australia/NZ respectively for the project Production of Ethanol from Biomass. She has travelled extensively for work, around Australia and New Zealand, and living in Sydney for some years. She is now now living in Melbourne, with her husband Dan and whippet Mack.