A chef I know recently told me about an incident involving a senior manager who declared to her, and others, that women do not belong ‘on the line’ in the kitchen.
“I was outraged,” she exclaimed. “He thinks women can be pastry chefs but that’s it. Then my boss told him, ‘Look at her! She’s one of our best people, only 20 and working on the line.’ And then a couple of other guys stood up for me. That head chef couldn’t say anything more. I felt really supported.”
For my friend, this was a happy ending. She can confidently take her place in a male-dominated industry knowing good men will speak up for her. But as I keep hearing every day, countless other women with the right qualifications, talent, experience and drive have been told by men that ‘they don’t belong’.
So, in a bid to increase my own understanding of the subject, I asked a number of women professionals to tell me their experience of exclusion in the world of work…
During my conversations with these women, the mining executive added: “My former employer introduced gender equality targets. Two women were quickly promoted but failed because they weren’t set up or supported properly. How do you think they feel now?”
Challenge unfair policies
I was struck by the similarity of the women’s experiences, particularly after all my interviewees told me men need to speak up for women.
For example, a consultant and mentor told me: “Women have had to speak up for themselves for decades. Now men have to join them.”
In a variation of the same theme, the chief executive of a large not-for-profit commented: “Men must challenge unfair policies and procedures at work and get them changed.”
Meanwhile, another respondent added emphatically: “[We need to] get a dialogue going.”
Dialogue? I’ve never discussed this subject with any man and, in truth, I really struggle to speak up when someone says something disrespectful towards a woman. My response has always been to ignore the comment, make a joke or gently scold the individual.
I let other guys off the hook because I’ve said stupid things myself and have been too worried about copping flak from other men like me – white, middle aged, middle class, university educated – for being a woke hypocrite.
But other men struggle too.
A friend told me her husband, a fireman who’ll risk his life running into a blaze to save someone, won’t challenge his mates when they’re speaking disrespectfully about women.
But enough of others; how do I deal with recent news in Australia, where I live and work, that has revealed appalling behaviours toward women by male government officials and politicians at both state and federal level – including allegations of rape, abuse, harassment and incomprehensible acts like masturbating on female colleagues’ desks?
Thus far, I haven’t regarded this problem as mine because of my self-image as a decent bloke who respects women. But right now, women need men to speak up as their allies.
To be part of the solution, it’s essential to open my eyes to see “the water you’ve been swimming in since you were born,” as one woman told me.
This doesn’t mean I am to blame or at fault for the whole thing. It’s just that owning the problem is the first step in doing something positive about it.
Originally posted in Sorted magazine