Laura Eaton Lewis on how to overcome subtle, recurrent gender bias
Support independent, non-corporate media.
There’s a rich debate taking place right now in Scotland that has revolutionised people’s participation in politics and the governance of our society. People who until now have not been admitted access to mainstream political processes have grasped the possibilities the independence referendum has brought about for future change. The public have themselves devised and led actions which are spreading like wildfire across the nation. It’s a fertile time. We’re all thinking about leadership, the way we want to be represented in politics, and how we might participate in the processes of governance in the future.
Regardless of the outcome of the Independence vote on the 18th of September, we can’t go back to how things were.
For everyone, but particularly for women and subjugated others, the independence discussion has been a massively positive experience: we have found our voice, reached out to our neighbours, activated our networks, and discovered the power and influence that each of us could have. We must maintain the level of engagement that we are currently experiencing.
The potential for societal change is within our grasp, and yet this collective enlightenment has also thrown light on problems that still exist, and which we cannot allow to be perpetrated any further.
With boldness and a thirst for justice many of us proclaim that we want to make Scotland a nation of equals – where each of us has the power to participate in the shaping of her future. Yet we cannot forget where we are now, that we continue to experience a deeply unequal relationship to power.
Whether yes or no, we must rebuild and we cannot begin to create the blueprint of a new nation, its principles or architecture, until we accept that the very process by which we write this future must enshrine the actions of equality at its core.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that, right now, we have a serious problem with leadership. There’s a problem with how it looks, how it sounds, what we believe it to be, HOW we think it gets done… and WHO we choose to do the job. Because ultimately, at the moment, we don’t get to choose.
‘But hang on… this was meant to be about democracy… wasn’t it?’
Take a look around, note who are our current leaders… by a long way you’ll find they are white middle class men who hail in disproportionate numbers from private education. You look at any platform in even the ‘social justice’ agenda of the referendum debate and the speakers also, overwhelmingly, represent that same demographic. Many of the people in leading campaign roles are self-appointed, others appointed sideways from similar jobs, and here we see the same demographic again. Now why is this? Are rich white boys better at leading than the rest of us? Is it inevitable that if Scotland votes to remove the Old Boys club we will end up replacing them with the New Boys Club?
That doesn’t have to happen. If it did, it would undermine the purpose of the whole independence movement, so we can safely assume that, amongst those supporting the social justice agenda behind the independence campaigns, no one wants that to happen. I don’t think for a second that any of the intelligent and inspiring men that I work with are intentionally aiming to withhold power from women and minority groups. I really feel for our Good Men (of whom there are many), it’s very difficult when you are a member of a privileged group to see the ways in which you unconsciously perpetrate structures and processes that continue to promote and maintain your privilege.
So how do we get out of this deadlock – what do we need to do?
First of all, we need to call it as we find it and realise that trying to resolve a problem is not going to put the end goal in jeopardy. It’s not a spanner in the works, it IS the works. It’s a design problem, and we need to recognise it when we see it and give voice to it. It doesn’t mean that those who are perpetrating it are bad people, no-one should be automatically vilified; what it DOES mean that we have a responsibility to address it now.
Not at some point in the utopian future, not after September the 18th… Now.
So let’s look at the ways in which this everyday power grab is happening within even the most progressive of circles. Numerous workplace studies which have shown the following:
1. MEN TEND TO SIGNIFICANTLY TAKE CREDIT FOR WOMEN’S WORK
Whether that’s taking credit for their ideas, using their words without credit, using their research or concepts without credit.
2. MEN TEND TO DELEGATE THE ADMIN WORK TO THE LADIES
Ah, the time-honoured practice of treating a woman as if she is your secretary. Come on dude, you’re a grown-up… write your own emails and book your own taxi.
3. MEN ARE SIGNIFICANTLY MORE LIKELY TO SELF-SELECT FOR THE SPOTLIGHT.
‘Because we need someone up there that knows what they’re doing’… Guys, it shouldn’t be news that women have a head for economics, negotiating and strategic thinking.
4. MEN OFTEN LEAVE THE SHITTY JOBS TO “SOMEONE ELSE”.
This can be a subtle one: the menfolks don’t tend to put themselves forward to do jobs unless they are the important ones. So often, to make sure things get done properly and the mission of the project succeeds, women feel they have to put themselves forward when no one else will to make sure the graft gets done. So in an attempt to work their way up to positions of power, women end up effacing themselves by taking on the grunt work while the men take the spotlight and do the public-facing appearances and, again, take the credit. As councillor Martha Wardrop of the Scottish Greens said, ‘women need to stop making themselves busy’.
5. MEN ARE VERY LIKELY TO TALK OVER WOMEN
Men frequently bellow in meetings, they interrupt, they don’t leave space in the conversation or look to women to give them the opportunity to talk, in short…
6. MEN WILL USUALLY IGNORE A WOMAN SAYING THE SAME THING AS A MAN.
The classic scenario where a woman says something over and over again, maybe another woman picks up on the point and yet the point isn’t noted until a man says the same thing. Then of course the man gets credit for her idea (see item 1). I’ve personally seen this happen hundreds of times. (see also The Fast Show sketch ‘The Woman that Men Can’t Hear’)
7. MEN WILL TEND TO OFFER “OPINION” AS ARGUMENT, YET DEMAND “EVIDENCE” FROM WOMEN
Women are held to a higher standard of performance and accountability than their male counterparts. Follow this up with the situation where a woman presents a storming case…
8. MEN OFTEN IGNORE THE VALIDITY OFEVIDENCE AND ARGUMENTS PRESENTED BY WOMEN
I don’t know why this happens, this is one of the things that makes me most angry. Present a rational position please, but if you’re not a man, the only way to make your argument visible is to get assertive about it because (item 6) ‘men ignore women’. And we all know what an assertive woman is, that’s right, an emotional one. Sorry lady, you didn’t convince us with your ‘facts’ because you got all ‘bossy’.
9. MEN FREQUENTLY VALUE WOMEN IN DIRECT RELATION TO THEIR PERCEIVED “ATTRACTIVENESS”.
Don’t pretend for a second that this isn’t true. Look at the shit Hilary Clinton has put up with, even though it’s pretty well accepted that she was the brains behind Bill C… she gets judged on what she’s wearing, her age, and the worst… her fuckability. Just last week, a colleague of mine was in a discussion about the referendum, only to be interrupted (point 5) by a man who said ‘I have to tell you how beautiful you are’, and when she said that was irrelevant to anything she was actually saying, he repeated himself (point 7) and then to ensure she was under no illusion that her ideas weren’t wanted and that only his experience of her face warranted discussion… repeated his line again (points 6, 7 & 8).
10. MEN USUALLY INSIST ON SYSTEMS OF DICSUIING THINGS THAT ALLOW THEM TO EXPRESS DOMINANCE VIA POINTS 1 TO 9….
The following systems have the effect that only the few who are already in positions of power (rich, white men) can have voice: Head to head debates favour the shoutiest; Panel presentations to an audience favour self appointed ‘experts’ who place themselves above the audience; Questions from the floor allow the experts to ‘teach’ those of us in the audience, and questions generally come only from people (usually men) who already feel privileged and therefore confident enough that their voice will be valid when they face the ‘experts’; round table meetings are usually conducted with a combination of all of the above – presentation, questions from floor, and head to head debate conventions, with the added problem that the agenda of what can be discussed is usually set by the leader.
– SO HOW DO YOU GET TO BE A LEADER?
See above list of points 1-10, be warned though that if you are not already a rich white man, you’d best do a bloody brilliant job at imitating one.
If we’re really interested in creating a socially democratic model of leadership, we have a great opportunity to do so in Scotland right now. With all this energy and engagement coming from the usually ‘invisible’ women and minority group leaders, it’s a timely moment to rewrite the governance models that underpin the systemic prejudice outlined above.
‘Sounds a bit hopeless’ you might say,
‘Why would any woman want to be a leader if that’s what you have to put up with?’
Or maybe you think, ‘But we need to get things done! It’s not like there’s another way of doing things… is there?’
YES. ANOTHER WAY IS POSSIBLE
It’s entirely achievable to create a high functioning culture if we begin as we mean to go on. We can reap the benefits of diverse knowledge by representing ALL of our talent in leadership roles, putting the best of our minds together. But to do this properly, we have to tackle this problem now, and to do that we have to see that the problem has at least four dimensions:
It’s systemic – the way we do things needs to change
Cultural – the way things have always been done has created a self-fulfilling prophecy that favours the same people over and over again. To re-programme this we need to actively select leaders on a positive bias from amongst those who are currently invisible
Behavioural – we need to set a new social contract about how we expect to conduct ourselves. We can’t leave politeness only to the ladeeezzzz.
Modelled on a pre-existing template of what ‘success’ looks like. So we need to create new narratives and promote other models of success.
A four dimensional proposal might be:
Based on a consensus model, big participation from many in small groups which allow quieter, diverse voices to present knowledge and feedback decisions and findings to the greater group. Decisions are taken by achieving consensus or as near to consensus as possible. Ensure questions are asked for clarity without jumping to stereotyped conclusions; then actually find a way to listen to the answers. Find a place to ‘bank’ suggestions and motions that are not for action ‘right now’ so that diverse ideas and voices are documented, even if they can’t be achieved straight away.
Quotas for representative / leadership positions and opportunities for development, will over time redress the cultural effect of one group having dominated the power and the narrative for so long.
Simply make the above list of points unacceptable behaviours, and set mutually agreed terms of engagement. If we feel that there’s a time and a space where these behaviours are essential, only with the consent of others, demarcate a time-limited space which allows expression in those ways towards a specified goal. For example, it’s not that head to head debate is never useful, but it should not be the day to day mode of leadership or persuasion.
Present and promote a range of possible templates for leadership, a range of flexible methods of working which admits the experience and processes of women, disabled people, people of diverse cultural backgrounds, ages and sexual identities. Transactional leadership processes replaced by transformational models.
But that’s jumping the gun.
We can’t decide that’s what we’re going to do without the consent and participation of those who are invisible right now, because we need them to create and define our future constitution and processes. We need proportional numbers of women and people of protected characteristics to comprise our leaders and negotiators on the morning of September 19th.
This is going to mean some of these lovely rich white boys stepping aside and giving ‘their’ place to someone else on their team, OR making an extra place at the decision making table for women and other missing voices.
I can’t overstate the importance of this. Representation affects everything, not just the ‘equalities bit’ of the process. Representation is the foundation of governance.
We need to BE THE LEADERS DESIGNING THE ARCHITECTURE, not be told which safety net might catch us when we fall off it.
In Scotland we’ve all been changed by the great decision that we face on the 18th September. We’ve been changed by the discussions we have had, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to find the information we need to uncover the complexity of the issues and make our own choice. We’ve been changed by the way that we’ve led our own action, volleyed perspectives and possibilities with people we love, founded new allegiances and discovered new ways of working.
We have been changed because we have taken politics back into our own hands and we are representing ourselves and our communities.
We don’t need to wait until we are ‘allowed’ to be leaders, we are doing it already. Shift your bum a bit and make space for us. We don’t want to do the shitty jobs, we belong at the table.
We have a voice… now let us use it.
Laura Eaton Lewis is an activist, part of the New Leadership Assembly,
Director of The Work Room, artist, writer, and member of the Scottish
Greens. She blogs at http://lauracameronlewis.wordpress.com
This article was first published in the very fine Closer magazine.
Masculinity at Work: The Experiences of Men in Female Dominated Occupations, Dr Ruth Simpson, Brunel University
Should Women Applicants “Man Up” for Traditionally Masculine Fields? Effectiveness of Two Verbal Identity Management Strategies
Jennifer L. Wessel1⇑
Ann Marie Ryan3
Christine M. Y. Kermond3,
Psychology of Women Quarterley
Gender, Status and Power in Discourse Behavior of Men and Women, Peter Kunsmann (Freie Universität Berlin)
Working patterns in Wales, WAVE wales