There is no doubt that sexism exists, and not just in the workplace. It is a part of everyday society. Does this mean that it is acceptable? No. Does this mean that everyone is sexist to some extent? Maybe.
We exist and strive here at the3rdi to address sexism in many of its covert and overt forms. We give voice and support to a myriad of theories views and experiences. Through this, we try to remain neutral and balanced. There is a perspective here however that is unashamedly singular, sexism from the male perspective. I ask you to set aside any immediate prejudice in this area and such sweeping generalisations as “men cannot multi-task” to present before you the statement that sexism exists in both directions. Sexism can be experienced by men from women as well as on women from men. This is not a general comment; these are facts. I know them to be true because they are my experiences, first hand. They are my facts and they are true.
When starting my corporate career I completed a management training programme with a global engineering company. I travelled around the organisation spending time in just about every department, from marketing to HR, from Accounts to the factory floor.
I encountered direct sexism on many occasions. When acting as apprentice in the manufacturing section I worked for periods of eight and 24 weeks on various assembly lines. In the teleprinter area which required a higher degree of dexterity and less heavy load work, the majority of the workforce were women. I encountered sexism every minute of every day from having to squeeze between two workbench staff that had moved their respective chairs too close together in order that I made physical contact (this causing me great embarrassment and them hysteria). I was regularly required to pick up dropped screws and bolts whilst the “girls” watched and commented and hailed innuendo. I was regularly asked what I wanted for lunch “poke and stuffing today” (a vulgar reference to pork). If I commented or blushed, the ridicule was heightened. “Oh! Look Christine, the little boy is embarrassed. Come here love, I’ll show you what to do with your soldering stick!” In the offices, the same again but marginally less overt. Mother-hen middle-aged desperate housewives and admin pools that delighted in my obvious embarrassment at discussions about their respective partners lack of sexual prowess or the regular refuge of the slighted lady, ‘women’s problems’.
As I matured and developed into management, the game was still the same. NEVER question ‘women’s problems’, repeatedly having to tread on eggshells in an attempt to work out who of the 12 women that I worked with were, at which stage of the cycle and why that mattered. Don’t get me wrong, this was a professional organisation but let me ask you this. What would have happened if I had gone to HR and complained about sexual harassment? I think you know.
As senior manager and director the issues never went away completely it was just that the tactics changed. Women that stood too close, extended eye contact, the odd touch of a hand on my arm, whispered comments as I passed that I was supposed to hear but not supposed to hear. I have witnessed ‘power sex’ traps with fellow Directors, broken marriages from late working and gate-keeper secretaries.
My point is a relatively simple one. Sexism is not just in the workplace. If you are sexist, you are sexist. It’s that simple.
If you cannot see past the gender to relate to the person them self, you are sexist. If you set up groups that exclude one gender or the other, you are sexist. If you look for gender-based excuses for lack of promotion, look in the mirror first; how do you behave with the junior male trainee or the new manager or your line Director? Do you use your ‘women’s worldly wiles’ or rely upon your feminine charms? These are you using your gender energies and your gender assets to further your case, career or conversation. Do you make random, unqualified generalisations such as “it’s different for men” or “he can handle it” or “typical man, can’t multi-task’” or have you ever flirted or manipulated a situation with your feminine charms? If so, you are sexist.
There is undoubtedly an imbalance in the workplace when it comes to senior roles. There is also an imbalance in the number of sexual harassment cases. But I have seen cases and experienced events that were just as sexist and just as unfair and there is another point to consider here; just how many men feel that they can actually complain? The whole world of male ego turns against itself here.
I am not looking for sympathy, just recognition that it is a two-way street. I could cite further repugnant examples from Monica Lewinski to screaming hen parties. You may defend them, justify them even. That is up to you, the mirror and your conscience and for the record, mine is clear.
I came up with the idea of the 3rdi; my idea, my name, my vision. Karen has taken the magazine to people and places that I could not. Karen has met wonderful women and been involved in fantastic events, I have not. I have been asked to speak at one event in the five years that we have ran this magazine together. I stepped down from MD in order that the magazine, the cause, could develop. I have watched and listened from the background as we continue to address inequality and inequity in business and society. I have promoted women’s events, rights and causes without question and without reward. I will continue to do this with all the passion and focus that I have because fairness, balance and respect are key to my work and life and these values are NOT gender specific.
In essence, I walk my talk. Do you?
Phil Birch is a founder member and regular contributor to the3rdimagazine