If I were to write an outraged article tearing down Gerry Harvey’s outdated and misogynistic comments regarding women on boards, most people in my network would agree, and think that this is just one of the dinosaurs coming out for a play, and who will soon fade away into irrelevance.
However, think about this: after reading similar articles to this, those of you working, like me, in engineering (or other technical) firms, will go back to your day working with (maybe) one – two if you’re lucky – women in your project teams. Your day-to-day interactions on a technical and commercial level would be lucky to reach the required 30% representation of women for critical mass. And what do most people do about it? Nothing. We get on with our day, whilst believing we ‘care’ about gender equity, and sometimes, not even knowing the true extent of the problem.
I argue that we need to understand the full spectrum of Jurassic behaviour – I propose that in the day and age of TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHTEEN, being a dinosaur extends from those similar to Gerry Harvey and Chris Corrigan to those who do nothing (including those who silently bemoan the destruction of a meritocracy by women, as though it ever existed in a fair and just manner in the first place).
Our institutions, organisations, and even us as individuals, will not be too far away from the attitudes of Harvey and those of his vintage if we don’t start trying harder and doing better when it comes to gender. We can shake our head in disbelief and laugh when we hear comments such as those published in the British Government’s report on the worst explanations for not appointing women to FTSE company boards, but on a day-to-day basis, what are we doing to make a difference?
I can honestly say that as an early career woman in engineering, I have weekly conversations about the fallacy of a meritocracy in my industry. I unpack the likeability-competency tightrope women walk in the workplace, for not only male leaders but also my peers of all genders. I explain the gender pay gap and how important appropriate pay and advancement is for young women and their superannuation (whilst making people a little bit awkward as a woman talking about finances).
Now, it is great that I am in the position where I can have these conversations, with sometimes willing (and maybe sometimes unwilling) participants. How times have changed: a 26-year-old woman can break down complex gender issues to the leaders in her organization, and they will (mostly) listen.
However, we can’t expect all women to be gender experts, nor should we expect them to be happy to conduct an inordinate amount of emotional labour explaining the issues that affect them so personally every single day, to those who are the holders of the power and influence that constantly undermine their status in the workplace. We need to each own this problem, and not rely on only the women to carry us over the line.
Whilst the majority of people in modern society believe in gender equity, scoff at comments such as those from Harvey Corrigan, and can hopefully identify the gender-biased reporting of Catherine Brenner, how many of us call out the fact a meeting has been scheduled with only one woman in attendance (and when she is the one asked to take notes)? How many of us consciously recruit and consciously retain diverse people in our teams? And what do we do when our team for a tender is almost exclusively male? Or when we have more people called John on our company board than we do women?
I am not asking you to wear a ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt (but great choice if you do). I do, however, expect that people of all genders start making gender an issue. We can’t take gender out of the conversation because we have never really made it theconversation. We are not there yet – but we could be, with everyone’s help. Nothing changes if nothing changes, so let’s start changing our behaviour, one action at a time and evolve into something better than who the dinosaurs want us to be.
Something for everyone? The Equality Institute should be in your favourites!