This is an interesting question to ask in the midst of so many women coming forward with stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment and sexual assault is a huge problem in our society, and it is interconnected with so many other instances of degradation, dismissive behavior and deeply ingrained attitudes about women who seek equal opportunity and power. I started to write this particular blog post before the #MeToo movement – I planned on simply recounting a recent situation where I was among a few women in a group full of more than 70 male leaders. A very prominent male business leader made a presentation to the group, and afterwards opened the room up for questions. The first hand raised was that of a woman. The presenter proceeded to call on 4 men, all of whom had their hands up after the woman. Finally, when prompted by a woman who was with him, the presenter finally called on the woman who had first raised her hand.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual story, but it reminded me how often women are still invisible. Yes, it is not as serious as experiencing sexual harassment, but it is never-the-less a symptom of women not being seen as powerful as men. I had a conversation with my step-daughter about this topic and her perspective was that it’s all behavior that falls on the same continuum. It may not be sexual harassment, but to the women in the room, including me, it still felt demoralizing and degrading.
I knew after the meeting that I needed to say something. I pointed out the behavior to the facilitator and reminded him that he needs to be aware of the dynamic in the room. He had not noticed, and was thankful that I had made him aware of the situation. As women, we need to come forward to point out behavior that creates the dynamic that positions women as invisible.
Amy Bell Hou is a writer, early childhood educator and mother living in Oakland. She is a co-founder of Drop Leaf Press, a women-operated poetry press based in San Francisco.
March 8 is International Women’s Day.
It’s also a day that multiple organizations for the advancement of women are calling for a women’s general labor strike. They’re calling it “A Day Without a Woman.”
The purpose of the strike is to shine a spotlight on “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system–while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.”
Women are a vital, often undervalued sector of the labor force in the world. At our paid jobs, women typically earn less than men in the same roles and suffer career setbacks if they decide to have children. Women also typically take the lion’s share of domestic work, like cooking, cleaning, and child care. Such unpaid labor is vital to a functioning economy and ought to be recognized as such, yet motherhood remains the number one predictor of poverty.
At Heels of Success, we endeavor to support all women as they balance careers, partnerships, children, and their own growth as individuals. We hope our posts can help bring more women into positions of leadership, because we believe the goal of widespread gender parity in the American workplace — nothing less than a major cultural shift — is only going to come when women have an equal number of seats at the table where decisions are made.
As such, we stand in solidarity with women, trans people and their allies for A Day Without a Woman.
While many women, particularly those in the fields of healthcare, childcare, and elderly care may not be able to strike, there are still ways for women and their partners to show solidarity.
The Women’s March organizers have set up a good FAQ and resources page, which will guide you through ways to show your support. Read the full International Women’s Strike platform here.
- Avoid shopping on that day, unless the business is local or women-owned.
- Can’t strike? Wear red to show your support.
- Men can participate by bringing up equal pay and paid family leave with decision-makers at work, leaning into housework and care work for children, and reflecting on their own expectations of women co-workers.
We’d love to hear your thoughts.
[Photo courtesy of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia]
I’m on a train heading from Philadelphia to New York City for a meeting with a group of high-powered people in the healthcare industry. As usual, I’m taking time to review the attendee list and go over notes on their collective backgrounds. I just realized that I’ll be the only woman in the meeting.
Now I’m giving myself a mental pep talk,
“How do I position myself in the room, how will I get a word in edgewise with this group, will they simply dismiss me? Should I practice my power poses in the restroom to increase my testosterone? Remember, keep your voice directed, loud and low.”
Wow, it takes a lot of energy to do this. I’m sure the male attendees are not going through this exercise before entering the meeting.
I’ve always been drawn to the phrase, “chance favors the prepared,” and I’ve advised women many times on how to prepare for meetings such as this. Unfortunately, often times that means more than just doing the background work. For me I know it’s true, being a woman means spending a lot more of my energy on mental preparation for meetings. Who has felt the same way? What have you done to combat this imposter syndrome?
I often observe things in a business setting that remind me how far we still have to go. Most times, they are subconscious behaviors or comments made without negative intentions. Nevertheless, they catch my attention. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting held outside of the hospital where I work. I was with a group of colleagues and we were meeting with a team of people – three women and a man, representing 4 separate companies. At the end of the business discussion, each person was asked to tell my colleagues and I a bit about their company.
The three women presented first. The third was relatively young and began by blushing and stating that her colleague who missed the meeting usually presented this information. She continued with a number of self-deprecating statements. I sat there willing her to stop criticizing herself and simply do what I believed she could do – present an overview of her company. She finally did and once she got going, her nerves settled and she was fine. Finally, the last to present was the man. He began by saying, “as you heard the girls just tell you.” I cringed and watched as the young woman who finally found the confidence to speak lowered her head and looked at the floor. Frankly, the man’s comment made me feel like I did not want to do business with him. It was a small statement but very impactful to me. Especially just after having witnessed a young woman work up the courage to participate in a meeting, only to be referred to as a “girl.” After the meeting, another man who had also observed the comment said to me, “do people really still call women girls?” Apparently they do!
Would you have spoken up? How do you think is the best way to respond if you are referred to as a “girl” in a business setting? I can only hope that as more women take leadership positions, more men will realize the defeating nature of a simple label like “girls.” I’d like to see us reach the point when women in the workplace will simply be known as colleagues.