Sexism in the Workplace: yes it still happens

Particularly in the workplace, it’s still a man’s world. I am reminded of this as we watch Mad Men and we shudder at the misogynist behaviour towards the likes of Joan, feel pain at what she is subjected to in the 1960s office, feel disgust that Peggy has to work ten times as hard as any male in the office to have her talent recognised, and then think, perhaps, ‘God, we are so LUCKY to be born in this day and age, look how far we have come.’

Well, yes, we have come a long way. Noted. But there is still quite a bit of room for improvement.

So often, it’s easy to shrug it off. Be a good sport, you tell yourself. You’re fun, you’re easy going. People in the office like you. Does it really matter? Are you just getting offended for the sake of it from such comments or behaviour, or do you really actually care?

Answer: I actually really care.

There are so many examples of the sexism I have been subject to over the years in my 15 odd years in the workforce. I have been expected, pretty much always, to take it like a good sport. Like the creepy come ons from men in the office, often not bothering to hide their wedding bands, who thought a single woman in her 20s was fair game. Gross, but ‘be flattered’ someone said to me. Huh?

Or the respected owner of a successful consulting agency, whose comments were expected to be taken as light-hearted jokes. Things like ‘could you get Bridget to put her tits away?’ (within my earshot), or his comment ‘the worst thing New Zealand ever did was give women the vote’, (#hilarious); not to mention his comment to a colleague, whose partner was about to have a baby in two weeks in the middle of an important release; ‘do you think you could get  to keep her fuckin legs together until the end of next week?’ (#cannotevencomment)

Then there was the reverse, when I (and the company I represented) was a potential client and a consultant came to sell us something. I was essentially the person he had to impress, but he didn’t bother to hide his disappointment when I confirmed that, yes, I was the only one he would be meeting with today – not my boss or my EGM, both of whom were men. Conversation went like this:

‘So, they won’t be joining us then?’ this guy, suited, in his 50s, computer bag under his arm.

‘No, I’m afraid not,’ I apologised. ‘Just me today.’

‘Are you sure it wouldn’t be more appropriate for someone higher up to join?’ he persisted.

‘Yes, perfectly sure,’ I said, feeling embarrassed and annoyed, like I just wasn’t good enough, by virtue of my age and sex. He had no idea what my role was or my standing the company. It was about what I was ( a woman, relatively young for a manager) rather than who I was.  What I should have said is, ‘Look, David, I am the one you have to impress her. If I am not good enough to meet with today, no problem, I won’t waste your or my time any longer.’

What I did say was: ‘let’s meet and see what happens, shall we?’ (We didn’t end up buying his services either, so small victories I suppose.)

Then there was the two years I worked for a management consultancy firm in Melbourne. I accepted as bottom shit kicker, office manager, I would be the one filling stationery supplies, organising travel, putting together end of week drinks for clients and staff. B, only a year older than me, would sit back with self-satisfied grin at work drinks and say ‘yeah, a cab sav for me thanks hon’ and wait for me to pour it for him. I wanted to snap at him ‘look, mate, are your arms painted on?’ but I didn’t, I dutifully poured the wine for him (rather than into his lap).

One of the best example comes again (unsurprisingly) from my consulting days, when we hosted some drinks for clients in the office. The bar fridge was on the ground and I crouched down to get a bottle of wine from it, one of the client’s managers (a middle aged, well paid public servant in his pinstripe suit) looked down at me, leered, and said ‘gosh you look good down there Bridge’.

Makes your stomach turn doesn’t it? So when I was told last week ‘not to worry too much about (current work structure) ’ because ‘I had something else much more important to focus on’ my brows darkened a bit. The ‘other thing’ this person was referring to was the event next year when my partner and I are legally married. Our wedding – a daylong event, a year away, is apparently much better to focus on than my long term career. Do you think anyone would say that to my fiancé? I doubt it.


Jogging update: 5k yesterday in 40 minutes on the new fangled treadmills at the gym. Surprisingly doable. The new screens provide access to youtube so I jogged along to the best of kiwiana in 1980s. Choice!


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