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Women's group at work - disappointing

(53 Posts)
AmberTheCat Wed 22-Oct-14 20:51:27

My company's diversity team has set up a women's support/networking/empowerment group, which I think is A Good Thing. I've just come away from the launch, though, feeling rather disappointed.

Disappointing Thing 1: The senior exec they've chosen to sponsor the group is a man. We have a pretty good number of female senior execs. No idea why they did this.

Disappointing Thing 2: Said man gave a speech in which he a) talked about 'man management', b) said he thought the main thing holding women back was confidence, and c) said he thought our company culture was conducive to women doing well, unlike the culture at his previous company which was 'entrepreneurial and fast-paced'.

Disappointing Thing 3: Many of the women I spoke to afterwards didn't seem to find Disappointing Thing 1 and Disappointing Thing 2 disappointing at all.

I blame you lot for raising my consciousness wink

DaMoves Wed 22-Oct-14 20:55:10

I would suggest a hostile takeover! That'll learn him!

Parietal Wed 22-Oct-14 20:58:19

it might seem odd, but sometimes having men involved in the group can make it an 'everyone' thing, not just a 'women thing' that gets ignored. So thing 1 isn't necessarily bad.

thing 2 would annoy me more - having the wrong person in charge won't help. This would be bad coming from either a man or a woman.

what is the group doing next? useful things can include checking for pay differences / promotion differences across gender, and generally kicking up a fuss if anything isn't fair.

AsAMan Wed 22-Oct-14 22:52:40

Disappointing Thing 1: The senior exec they've chosen to sponsor the group is a man. We have a pretty good number of female senior execs. No idea why they did this.

Really? confused

You MUST write your HR dept. Highlight the fact that one of reasons women struggle in the workplace is that their voices are not heard when men speak and that having a man in charge is a massive fail on their part. And please quote all of disappointment number 2.

Would they have a group for minorities run by a white guy telling them how to act more white?

I'd also use the names of specific females executives as alternatives for bloke in charge and mention that they would be infinitely more inspirational as women "who have made it"

stealthsquiggle Wed 22-Oct-14 22:57:11

See, I wouldn't be especially disappointed by disappointing thing 1, were it not for disappointing thing 2 (which is bloody enraging, not just disappointing). The right person to lead a diversity initiative is defined by character, attitude and ability, not gender. However clearly in the light of disappointing thing 2, he was a lousy choice.

As for disappointing thing 3 - are there enough people involved to be worth persisting and finding some sane like minded ones?

If so, then a takeover plan could be hatched, including approaching a better sponsor, in time. If not, then maybe find something industry-wide and outside of your employer?

AsAMan Wed 22-Oct-14 23:07:24

^ The right person to lead a diversity initiative is defined by character, attitude and ability, not gender.^

Character ability and attitude but also an innate knowledge of the problems faced by that gender. Surely? Why is the best person for a job always a man? Even when that job is dealing with women's issues? The op said there are females executives, why do you think they would be less able to do to the job?

Would you expect a group that dealt with the issues of being Polish immigrant in the UK to be headed by an English person? Wouldn't you think a Polish person should do it?

stealthsquiggle Wed 22-Oct-14 23:27:08

You are spectacularly missing my point there, AsaMan.

Just because someone is female, does not make them the right person to head up a diversity initiative. In fact, there are a number of women I have met at a senior level who got there by playing the game by the rules that were there, not by changing them, and who see no value in changing them in order to facilitate the careers of other women (or other minorities). Being constantly asked to head up/ speak to women's network events drives them demented, IME.

For sure, being a member of a minority gives you a head start in understanding the issues, but it doesn't give you the exclusive on that understanding, and it doesn't automatically make you the best person to DO something about it.

I am not saying the best person for the job is always a man. Absolutely not. What I am saying is that you should be looking for the best person for the job, not the best woman for the job. I actually lead women's initiatives within my organisation myself, FWIW (and yes I am a woman), and contribute to external ones too, but my (male) boss is a fantastic sponsor who I am actively looking to engage in some of what I am doing.

EBearhug Thu 23-Oct-14 00:44:48

I don't think Disappointing Thing 1 is necessarily a bad thing. I do emphasise to colleagues at work that our Women's Assoc is for everyone, not just women. I think there are a lot of men who are either entirely unaware of it (not if they work on projects with me, mind you), or just think it's irrelevant to them, "Oh, EBear's thing," or something. Men are massively in the majority in our company, and however brilliant and prominent women are, I'm not sure that real change can be achieved if you haven't got at least some of the men on-board. Better to have the right man on board than the wrong woman. Having said that, the other disappointing things make me suspect they didn't look that hard at whether there were any suitable women. Also, it sounds like they've read recent research pointing to companies with more diverse staff tend to be more profitable, rather than they really believe in equality for the sake of it.

Disappointing Thing 2 would have me raging. I would be giving feedback (don't care whether or not they asked for it, they clearly need it.)
a) I would be finding some articles on the use of speech and how things can make you feel marginalised and irrelevant.

b) Confidence. Hmm, I think he would be getting information about unconscious bias, some reports on women in IT (I work in IT; there are probably similar reports for other industries, particularly male-dominated ones), and highlighting things like something like 67% of women working in tech have experienced sexism in the workplace. For IT, there has been a fair bit on why women don't enter, as well as why they don't say. I would probably be writing an essay about why he is wrong and blamey, "it's all your own fault for not being confident enough." (Oh, I definitely would - I did, and I recently updated it and turned it into an article on women in STEM for our internal women's magazine. Waiting to see if some of my arsier points get edited out, or if I was sufficiently diplomatic...)

c) It may well be the culture is better for women than his previous company. I suspect it's nothing like as good as he thinks, partly because of the rest of Disappointing Thing 2.

Do you know if they've asked women in the company how they feel about the culture? If not, maybe someone could set up a survey monkey anonymous survey to ask some pertinent questions.

I'd ask if any of them have read Lean In (I'd really want to ask if any have read Delusions of Gender, but I suspect Sheryl Sandberg is going to be more palatable than Cordelia Fine.) Maybe you could suggest setting up a Lean-In Circle under the women's group.

Ask what HR are doing - my employer has been running compulsory training for managers on unconscious bias, as has Google (their presentation is available on Youtube, and I recently posted a link elsethread - there are links to a couple of other relevant articles too.) Another company I worked for ran compulsory workshops on harassment awareness, to make sure everyone knew what behaviours could count as harassment and was therefore unacceptable. That sort of programme does need quite a bit of investment, but budgets will be found if they see enough of a need. Also, what recruitment policies do they have? Do they strip out things like gender-identifying information before passing on CVs to hiring managers for review, so they really are looking at the skills and experience, rather than "someone like us"?

Our women's group runs lots of lunchtime (i.e. doesn't interfere too much with normal work) development sessions - for example, there's been one on Amy Cuddy's TedTalk and body language, and ones on time management, identifying your strengths, work-life balance and so on. There's also internal informational presentations, on thing like the tuition reimbursement scheme, to help women know what resources are available to them, and do them. Plus we have talks from senior managers about their career paths, giving hints and tips - and again, it's a way people at all levels and all departments get to know who some of these high-up people are, who can otherwise seem faceless, remote and irrelevant (and one of the things which has really struck me is just how varied and diverse people's backgrounds are - not many have taken a traditional career ladder, but zig-zagged around a bit.) One of the best things about those is that's where the networking goes on, because you do get to meet people from all other departments, that you wouldn't normally come across, and it's an opportunity to hear about things going on in the company - these days, I'm more likely to know about HR initiatives and the like before my manager.

Since the women's assoc has been active, I have seen a culture change - things are improving (there are other things going on as well, not just the women's assoc.) It's made me feel more involved with things, and I am therefore more motivated. Plus, it really annoyed my idiot senior manager who initially tried to block me from getting involved with one of the committees, and sent my manager to HR to see if they could prevent it. I was a bit disappointed when he dropped that, because I was looking forward to the fight between him and these senior women. I suspect his manager pointed out he was only going to make himself look a fool and he stood no chance of winning, as he was rather proving the need for it all by his reaction - and I probably wouldn't be quite so keenly involved if it hadn't been for that initial reaction. It does cheer me up to know that me doing absolutely nothing wrong is annoying him.

I know I have gone on at length (I do tend to get into a stream of consciousness), but I just think you have a great opportunity to get some ideas put forward and turn it into something useful despite Disappointing Man Manager, and even with Disappointing Thing 3, I'd bet there are some who are disappointed, or at least would be willing to support something useful coming out of it.

Still, you never know - sometimes people do step up to the mark against the odds, so perhaps he'll surprise you all. (Nah, I'd be giving him encouragement and ideas, just in case he lives down to expectations.)

AsAMan Thu 23-Oct-14 07:54:49

I'm not missing your point, I just think it it is patronizing as hell to have a man talk that way to a group of women about a women's issue. Maybe the female execs got to their position by playing the game (how else would they have done if that's the system at the company, they shouldn't be penalized for it). The men didn't play the game because they didn't have to.

I just think if you have a company with women at the top there is probably one who could be doing the job. I do feel it is a bit like when men feel the need to tell women how to do feminism. There voices are more likely to be heard, less likely to be right, and more likely to be telling women how they can act like men or make men like them. To be honest in the Op's situation I definitely wouldn't bother going back, I'd expect even with feedback that they just didn't get it and not waste my time.

stealthsquiggle Thu 23-Oct-14 08:36:33

But if you had actually read my first post, I said that the man in question was clearly a lousy choice, but that is because he sounds to be a complete dinosaur somewhat behind the times, not because he is a man. The OP raised the two as separate disappointments, and I said, as did ebear later, that it was disappointing thing 2 which would make me fume, but that disappointing thing 1 was not necessarily bad in itself.

..but hey, you go ahead and tell me I am wrong based on reading a third of my post.

AsAMan Thu 23-Oct-14 09:04:41

I read your post. I think actually you misread mine. I don't think a man talking that way (as in about women's issues to a group of women) is appropriate.

You seem to think it is fine for a man to tell women about women's issues as longs as he does it in the right way. Or have I misread you and actually you don't want your male boss involved? hmm

Yes he is a complete dinosaur and that is an issue, but even if he was Super Right On Liberal Lefty Man, I'm going to not give a fuck about what he has to say about being a woman in the work place.

stealthsquiggle Thu 23-Oct-14 09:13:35

I don't think a senior manager talking about diversity issues is inappropriate, no. Why would I? Any senior manager should have this as one of their measures. My boss worries about the lack of diversity in his team, and is incredibly supportive of everything that we, collectively, can do to address that lack of diversity, both in terms of eliminating conscious and unconscious bias within the organisation, and in terms of reaching out into higher (and school level) education to increase the pipeline of STEM graduates from all backgrounds and genders coming into the industry.

Labelling it "women's issues", and saying that only women are supposed to care/talk/do anything about it is incredibly patronising IMO. It's not a problem that only concerns women. Numerous studies have shown that organisations with diverse management teams are more successful than those dominated by one gender/race/social group. It's an issue for the business. If the business happens to be run by a man, it is an issue for him. So why the hell wouldn't they talk about that?

AsAMan Thu 23-Oct-14 09:27:16

So why the hell wouldn't they talk about that?

They should. In general, to all of their employees including men because they will be a significant part of the problem. But going to a group of women is IMO patronizing. Pretending to have some insight, what specifically is he going to help them with?

You don't have to agree with me. I'm saying if a company I worked for did that I would immediately feel that it wasn't valuable and wonder why I was wasting my time learning about women's issue from a man.

stealthsquiggle Thu 23-Oct-14 09:33:59

I do, clearly, disagree with you.

I think that reaction is very narrow minded.

PumpkinGordino Thu 23-Oct-14 09:45:19

given that in the majority of companies, it is highly likely that ultimately whoever is at exec level is likely to report into a man anyway. however, i share your feeling of disappointment OP that a man was chosen, though as others said it's not a given that a woman at that level (given that there are relatively few to choose from) will necessarily be a strong advocate.

however, it is clear that in this case he is not the right man. the right man, if there is such a thing in terms of leading a professional women's group, would have said "this is not a time for me to impart my opinions and experience. this is the time for me to listen to yours. i'll sit down and shut up now"

i've mentioned this many times on here, but my company's women's group received complaints from men that it was exclusive to women, and had to open its doors to men too. so now it is "for everyone", but no men attend anyway. note that no heterosexuals have ever demanded entry to the LGBT group

PumpkinGordino Thu 23-Oct-14 09:46:01

my first sentence is missing some words, i'm not sure which ones though. you get the gist

AsAMan Thu 23-Oct-14 09:47:37

the right man, if there is such a thing in terms of leading a professional women's group, would have said "this is not a time for me to impart my opinions and experience. this is the time for me to listen to yours. i'll sit down and shut up now"


MyEmpireOfDirt Thu 23-Oct-14 09:49:12

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AsAMan Thu 23-Oct-14 09:53:11

See if a man was involved, (sat in and listened) as pumpkin said, and then used that information speak to everyone I'd think that was great.

tobeabat Thu 23-Oct-14 09:56:36

OP, I would be raging too.

2 and 3 are awful and frustrating.

With 1, I understand the counterarguments to some extent, but also agree with your fundamental objection. Pragmatically, how about a (different) man and an (appropriate) woman leading this in partnership?

scallopsrgreat Thu 23-Oct-14 10:08:39

Seriously? A man leading a women's group?

A bit like a white person leading a BME group I suppose. Totally OK.


cailindana Thu 23-Oct-14 10:13:09

I agree with AsAMan. Having a man stand up and speak to women about their lives is just an extension of patriarchy, and a particularly insidious one, because women at that meeting will specifically be there believing it will help them to overcome barriers and so will be vulnerable to taking on board subtle sexist shit under the guise of "helpful advice."

I agree that if a man had come along and said, "tell me what you face," that would have been slightly better although IME men's response to women's honest reporting of what they've experience is incredulity, denial, minimising, mansplaining etc. IME admitting how much you have faced in terms of misogyny, sexism etc (and bear in mind that particularly difficult topics such as sexual assault may come up) can make you feel extremely vulnerable, and having a man there saying "oh it's not that bad" is very difficult to handle. It's a double slap in a way - not only have you experienced and been disadvantage by it, but a member of the group who disadvantaged you is now telling you you have no right to feel the way you do about it.

Everything I see to do with "promoting diversity" ignores the deep personal scars that can be left by sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. These things aren't just annoying little hurdles that can be knocked down with the right attitude, the messages of patriarchy are burned into women's sense of self, and men just don't understand that. They think "we'll just make everything more friendly and encouraging and everything will be fine." And having that patronising "help," with the attached bafflement when the help doesn't suddenly make everything better is a further injustice for women. Men get to feel like they're making everything better, they get to feel like the white knight, while women are left still doubting themselves, still disadvantaged with the added burden of feeling inadequate for not responding appropriately the wonderful "help" they've been given.

Men have power over women. They should not be allowed to wield that power in the guise of "helping," because that, IMO, is when they can do the most damage.

PumpkinGordino Thu 23-Oct-14 10:18:56

it's difficult because you need senior management buy-in (which usually means a man at some point), and god knows i've been involved with many groups where it's clear that senior management think that just the group existing is enough, and that is thoroughly depressing

however, as cailin says women are far less likely to actually talk about their own experiences when a man is present. even a shutting-up-and-listening one. and particularly in a professional context where voicing this stuff can have a huge negative impact and everyone knows it

scallopsrgreat Thu 23-Oct-14 10:19:09

Completely agree cailin. Well put.

scallopsrgreat Thu 23-Oct-14 10:19:58

But there are a number of female executives at this company Pumpkin so why couldn't one of them headed it up?

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