I had lunch with a friend recently who shared about a job interview that was a triumph for her personally and for women’s equality everywhere. First, some background: this friend has always been a powerhouse, and yet, in the past she let men dominate and control her to a large degree. Like many women in business, given the nature of business continues to be primarily patriarchal, she did not want to jeopardize her success. When she discovered how negatively not standing up for herself and not fully expressing her genius and contribution was, she decided to take new actions. A true win!
So, what happened? She had a major company fly her to their location for an interview for a prime director position. She went through the interview and then noticed the dearth of women in leadership, so she asked about it. She said something and asked how she could be successful in that environment, basically. They sidestepped and justified, never being responsible for the current condition or telling her what they were doing to alter the pure lack of diversity in their company. Of course, she did not want nor get the job at that point and was completely empowered as a result.
Next I want to share something that happened with me recently as well. I was leading a workshop with a man. We have known each other for many years and have a great relationship. We respect one another deeply. During this workshop, he said something, putting his hands on my shoulders in what he thought was a loving way. Later when we were debriefing, I pointed out that that gesture and way of operating was a male dominating behavior. He was shocked as he was not aware of it. I woke him up in a way by pointing it out authentically while being calm and not upset, to allow him to see it and change it. I know he did not mean to dominate, and mostly we are unconscious to our behaviors which one could say are male dominate, women submissive behaviors. Women are also unconscious to our biases and ways in which we allow our own power to be diminished and actually give our power away.
Think about the ways in which you keep gender biases in place, innocently, unconsciously. One place to look is in language. How do you describe leaders? Are you using male dominant behavior descriptions to describe powerful leaders? Are you allowing yourself to be negatively affected by descriptions of powerful women’s voices as too high, or if she is emotional- somehow that is less than a male leader?
I invite you to consider the norms, the default descriptors are male. Man and person are often synomous until someone says it about a woman. Think about this when there is a male executive, like a CEO, it is simply said the CEO of x company. If there is a woman CEO it is pointed out that it is a woman CEO- which presumes the default/norm is male. Subtle, yet all of these type of linguistic habits serve to keep gender bias in place.
I am reading a great book about this called “wordslut” by Amanda Montell. She deconstructs language to make us aware of the ways language has been used for centuries to diminish women and other marginalized persons. I think it is time for us to wake ourselves and others up to the use of language and take real action to end the gender gap now.
What can you do?
Notice. Pay attention to the behaviors and language that are male dominant. When you do it, correct yourself. When others do it, point it out and correct them. It is a gift to alter the future for ourselves and all people. Women’s contributions will not be fully realized until we do.