Yes, that is what I heard from a senior leader of a small company I was consulting with who was discussing morale issues in his office. He went on to say that “men do not have the same issues in getting along with each other and that this is what happens when you have an office full of women”.
Whoa! As an author on women’s empowerment issues, as well as my many years of Human Resources experience, I was shocked and saddened at this gross generalization and his assessment of the problems he was having in his office. It was shocking to me that his first response was to blame a whole “gender” for his company’s work-related issues. Of course, I could not resist probing further and asked him what was specifically contributing to these morale issues and really delve into what those reasons were. In other words, what were the actual behaviors that were being exhibited, how, and most importantly WHY? “Well”, he began, “one of our managers was trying to address performance issues with her employee and she blew up at her and wanted to walk off the job and now wants to quit”. He went on to say, “This never would have happened if it were men involved, as they are more reasonable.”
Hold up now! Talk about a controversial statement! Maybe I should have retorted “well, if it was men, they would go home and get a gun and shoot the person who gave them the feedback!” But that would be wrong. Equally as wrong as the generalized statement about women, in my humble opinion. But fighting derogatory comments with other derogatory comments is never the answer. What is the more logical approach was that I began to peel back the layers of this onion, and lo and behold, it turns out that the manager in question was newly promoted into her role and had next to no experience in providing constructive feedback to her subordinates. Secondly, the person she was providing feedback to had only been with the company for less than 60 days and was struggling with learning concepts of her new job. Long story short, they were both feeling overwhelmed with their new responsibilities and this combination created a perfect storm that manifested as tension on both accounts. After assessing the details behind the “why” this happened, it became clear that from an HR perspective, that the root cause was due to a lack of training and proper onboarding for both employees, in their respective roles. The bottom line was that the company failed to provide the manager with the tools and foundation for her to be able to deliver feedback successfully, and she floundered in trying to “figure it out” without proper guidance and support. Additionally, the company also failed the employee by not doing continuous check-ins to determine her level of competency and comfort in her new role. They were both feeling unsuccessful and this was manifesting outwardly, which was creating low morale throughout the office. I would argue that anyone, male or female would have had some kind of a reaction to this lack of support.
This situation really resonated with me however, because as you now know, it ultimately had NOTHING to do with “women not getting along”. But sadly, this is bona fide sexism and is something that is very real and clearly still pervasive in the workforce in 2018. Interestingly enough, when I shared this scenario with some of my female colleagues, a few of them too, echoed back the same sentiment as the senior leader did. This was the most surprising observation to me, that women (even younger women) have bought into these gender stereotypes and believe that women are irrational, emotional, competitive and can’t get along. I did my part that day to educate that senior leader and I helped him implement a foundation for both new and newly promoted employees going forward. But I feel like that wasn’t enough.
The whole situation made me realize that sexism is a topic that needs to be discussed more broadly and I feel a responsibility to raise awareness that this kind of thinking still exists in workplaces everywhere. But awareness is not enough. It’s time to demonstrate an unwillingness to tolerate these outdated generalized statements and proactively address them when we hear it, both in and out of the workplace. We all need to do our part to both educate men that this mindset is no longer acceptable and to empower women to stand up and become vocal advocates in their quest for equal rights. Only then will we be able to crush these outdated modes of thinking and move in the right direction.
Cathy Denault, SPHR is the author of the book “Inside the BOX-Protecting your Power- An Empowerment Guide for Women”, and a Human Resources Executive with over 20 years’ experience in a variety of industries.