Based on the number of #MeToo posts in my social media feeds and the news I’m reading from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, some men have a problem. They seem to be grappling with a mystifying phenomenon: what are women doing in my workplace? Since this blog is all about helping you, the reader, I’ll do my best to explain.
This post is directed at men. If you are a woman, you already know this stuff — and most men do, too — but sometimes I just have to get back to the basics for the slower and more troglodytic members of my gender.
Here’s the main thing:
The women in your workplace are human beings with brains.
Yup. That’s an amazing true fact. Not only that, they are in the workplace is to use those brains to get work done. That’s the main reason they’re there. Wow, who knew?
Once you accept that, you can get to a whole bunch of other true facts.
- A woman in the workplace is not a piece of meat. Because she is a human, you cannot grab her body parts. Ever. There are no exceptions. Your state of arousal is not an exception. It being at night at a conference is not an exception. Being drunk is not an exception. Putting aside the fact that ever since we outlawed slavery that people are supposed to control their own bodies, what are you thinking? Do you really believe groping people will lead to some sort of sexual encounter? When has that ever worked on any sentient creature? It’s wrong . . . because women are human beings with brains.
- The workplace is not a singles bar. The reason the women are there — the reason they were hired — is to do work. They might be creating financial plans, answering customer service calls, managing a department, or welding girders, but they’re there to work. They are not there for you to size up as dates and potential sexual partners. Wasting their time and yours treating the workplace as a singles bar demeans their contribution. Do not ask or talk about why they are single — whether you are talking with them or with others. This is not the secretarial pool on Mad Men (and even back then it was wrong). Get back to work. Because women are human beings with brains.
- You should listen to women in the workplace because you may learn something. Because the women have brains, they are thinking. Sometimes they are talking. Sometimes their ideas are — yes, I know this is hard to get you head around — better than yours. But you’ll never know if you don’t let them finish their sentences. You’ll never know if you try to mansplain things they already know just because you’ve heard something on the same topic. And you’ll listen better if you actually look at their faces when they are talking. Because . . . women are human beings with brains.
- They’re women, not “girls.” Yes, even if they are in their twenties. Just as when you entered the workplace you were not a “boy,” you were (or wanted to be) called a “man.” Try it. Say things like “I was talking to a woman from accounting, and she explained that . . . ” or “When a woman chooses our product . . . ” Once you talk this way, it may change the way you think as well — because then you will be less likely to act like they are little girls. Because, just like you, women are human beings with brains.
- Compliments get in the way. Yes, I know you were (probably) just trying to be nice. She has a new hairstyle — say you like the new hairstyle. She upgraded the way she dresses — say you appreciate her taste in clothes. But go on quickly to the next topic, which ought to be work. The more time you spend on her appearance, the more you are communicating that looks, not ability or work, are what matters in your relationship. Why not talk about how effective her marketing copy was or how her department seems to run like clockwork? Because (say it with me) women are human beings with brains.
- These facts apply to all women, not just colleagues. You can apply every one of these rules with customers, suppliers, consultants, and all the other women you deal with on a day-to-day basis. Because, and this is true for all of them, women are human beings with brains.
- Your power at work doesn’t change these facts. If you are a CEO or an SVP or a principal or a partner, good for you. There are so many ways you could express your power. You could micromanage people working for you. You could tilt the compensation so you get paid a lot. You could decide who to hire and fire and how much to pay them. You could even — odd as it might seem — inspire and lead people of all genders to accomplish a goal together. All of these things will feed your ego, which I know you need. Even the worst of these ideas are better than using your power to try to force women to do things in sexual situations. That will catch up to you and destroy your career (as well as damaging the psyches of some of the women you’re messing with — which is not only disgusting, but a waste of talent). Sure, you could use your power that way, but aren’t you better than that? You got to this level because you’re smart enough to recognize that, yes, women are human beings with brains.
About women in the workplace and me
I was raised in a household where both parents respected (and still respect) each other. My father worked in a university with plenty of women professors and administrators. And despite having a huge ego as I entered the workplace, I accepted without question that my first boss, a woman, knew more than I did about work, and I learned from her. My wife is also really smart, and I learn from her every day.
This post does not come from a sanctimonious place of superiority. Far from it. It comes from a man who made plenty of mistakes in interactions with women in the workplace (although, and it is absurd that it’s even necessary to say this, I never assaulted anyone). Luckily, women I’ve worked with, starting with that first boss, took a moment to explain to me what I was doing wrong (like calling them girls). I remain grateful for what I learned from those women, because they helped me to listen to, learn from, and sometimes manage other women in the workplace. One of the ways I gave back is to help women working for me and other colleagues to be successful, and looking back, that’s one of the best things I did. I was not easy on these women, but that had nothing to do with gender. I encouraged them to use their brains better, and they did.
Anyway, here’s the thing: if someone explains that you are causing a problem in your interactions with women, listen. You might learn something too.