Safe Workplaces Are Gender-Equal Workplaces

In the wake of Weinstein, it may seem like it’s been a tough couple years for women in the workplace. On the contrary, it’s been a tough few decades for those working with or for Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and other high-profile figures that used their career and workplace status, a network of enabling colleagues, assistants, and managers, and a workplace culture that excused the smaller public behaviors that might sometimes have revealed the more serious offenses happening behind closed doors.

Perhaps as more and more high-profile sexual predators are brought into the light, workplaces all over will pay attention and get a little bit safer.

An obnoxious minority have argued that this is a Hollywood or entertainment problem. Of course it’s not. The cultural problems in the still male-dominated tech industry provide another data point.

And we can add one more, in pure science, as two studies have recently been released on gender behavior and discrimination affecting women scientists. While I would like to believe that the scientific mission, in its purest form, knows no color, sex, or creed, in this rarified realm in which only ideas should matter, the data show that simply isn’t true.

The first study, conducted by Ryerson University and reported by CBC, catalogued examples of casual, perhaps unintentional sexism in the workplace. For example, making note of a female scientist’s physical appearance where you would be unlikely to do that with a male scientist, or casually noting that a female student in the sciences can disregard financial considerations when choosing or pursuing a career, because she’ll have a husband to pay the bills.

These comments might seem relatively innocuous, especially when compared against the graphic and frightening reports about Weinstein and his ilk, but this kind of everyday sexism, coming mostly from colleagues, friends, or families that may even think they are being supportive, has serious long-term effects on a person’s self-concept, feeling of belonging, and willingness to take risks. The report points out that while schools may be more inclusive and supportive of women in the sciences, if workplace behavior doesn’t improve, it will remain a problem retaining female talent.

The second study, this one conducted by several prominent female zoologists, zeroed in on one specific behavior: hand-raising and question-asking at scientific conferences and seminars. Phys.Org reports that male scientists in the audience were 80 percent more likely to ask questions during presentations than female scientists in this study. This is true even when controlling for age (there are more male senior scientists today than female, the legacy of a previous generation’s sexism).

While the study authors do not propose an explanation for the discrepancy, it tells you that male and female scientists have internalized different beliefs about what their role is and what behavior is appropriate for them. While it might seem somewhat innocuous, this is a less extreme end of a continuum that includes sexual harassment and assault.

I hesitate to invoke a “slippery slope” argument, but when it comes to workplace culture, it’s not necessary to prove that these subtle attitudes might increase the probability of an assault. By themselves, these small moments of leaving out, discounting, or subtly discouraging women are enough to make the workplace emotionally unsafe. That in itself is a problem.

It’s been 50 years since the publication of The Double Helix, written by a still-young James Watson in the decade after he and Francis Crick took credit for a lot of work stolen from their maligned female colleague, Rosalind Franklin. Even though Watson wrote the memoir to paint himself as a scientific hero, you don’t have to read between the lines to realize what a sexist asshole he was or what a raw deal Franklin got. Watson provided this smoking gun in his own words because he felt he had nothing to hide. It was okay to treat a woman that way, especially when she didn’t even bother with make-up.

Safe workplaces are gender equal workplaces. In all sectors and industries the bar has to be higher than simply avoiding sexual assault.

Photo credit: Urcommunicacion

45 comments

Stephanie s
Stephanie s1 months ago

Signed, thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s1 months ago

Signed, thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s1 months ago

Signed, thank you

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Aubrey L
Aubrey L1 months ago

tks 4 sharing

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Chad A
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you!

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Marija M
Marija M2 months ago

tks for sharing

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Kathryn I
Kathryn I2 months ago

Petition signed. Thanks for posting!

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Mike R
Mike R2 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R2 months ago

Thanks

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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