We can make a difference in leveling the playing field- causing equity in the workplace. When I read articles like this one in the Washington Post last week about a senior female executive who has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit for $20 million against her publicly traded consulting firm, I am left with a dichotomy of emotions- disgust it is still happening at that level and hope that when we take actions we have a real opportunity to end it.
This article outlines what happened when the male dominated leadership team took actions that were blatantly sexist- including asking her publicly to serve the junior men cake, since she was a woman as well as excluding her from career and advancement opportunities.
Unfortunately, as I have heard a number of times from the generous women I have interviewed for my upcoming book, this is not uncommon. The situation of having a woman do a task because she is female (and they would not ask the men to do it, as it fits inside stereotypical female roles) happens very frequently. I am also hearing story after story of women who have not been invited to participate with the other leaders in outside activities when the leadership team is male dominated. The reasoning, as of late, has been the men are concerned about the ‘me too’ movement and being accused of some form of sexual harassment. Here is the thing about that—that is the newest excuse, as this practice has been going on for decades! And, frankly, if men are conscious to what they are doing and how it might make a woman feel and then don’t behave badly…they have nothing to worry about!
The brave extraordinary woman who is calling this out is Nancy Saltzman, who was general council at the company. She said, “Meaningful change depends on women who are willing to speak up and corporate boards who will listen and take them seriously,” Saltzman said. “Corporate leaders should be focused on fostering diversity, not silencing those who complain of discrimination.”
Her action has also prompted more women to come forward disclosing similar experiences in the company with the individuals named.
It takes something to be the first. Most women I talk to about this have valid concerns of retaliation, damage to their reputation and even worry about future employability. I truly understand there is cause for concern. However, if we don’t act, the behavior like this and other similar behavior WILL continue unchecked.
I do not believe that the men involved got into a conspiracy to diminish women. I do, however, believe that they are doing what is modeled and as such, considered acceptable. Young men and women come into the workplace and look to the older experienced men and women to show them how to behave, what works and what doesn’t, what is acceptable and what is not and how to deal with the actions and activities that are not.
We do train people all the time by our action or inaction. The question is “What is it going to take for you, and I, and every woman and male ally to say, enough and end the gender discriminatory behavior?”
We, together, can and will change the world.
I challenge each of us to get vigilant and act to call out the unacceptable behavior when we see it and model what works for one another and future generations. We can end the gender gap, together.