Skip to main content

Benevolent Sexism

Possibly an extension of paternalism, benevolent sexism, and his ugly brother, hostile sexism, have become a subject of much study.   And then there is the stepbrother, ambivalent sexism, to add to the mix.

Mentioned in Sheryl Sandberg's best seller Lean In, it is a topic that is definitely gaining momentum among women in business.    The fact that it is seen as higher in people in traditional marriages (man being the major breadwinner) is very interesting, particularly as the use of the word people is deliberate, both men and women in traditional marriages, are often seen as being benevolently sexist.

Melanie Tannenbaum's article has received a lot of commentary, and both the article and the comments are well worth reading.  Because it isn't simple, most times telling a woman she looks great is just a compliment!   But there are times when the line gets crossed.

At a recent talk I gave, a young woman asked how she should handle being patronised, because she had achieved something that was traditionally seen as in the male arena.   Comments from the men included "Well, if she can do it, it must be easy".   She did receive a lot of congratulations, too but she clearly feels that the achievement has been a little tarnished by the reactions.

Over the years in business, I have also noticed a few differences in the questions I am asked about the company I manage, compared to men in similar positions.   I attend many functions, and we swap business cards, as you do.   As soon as people read my card, and see that I am in the C-Suite (one of my least favourite new buzz expressions), they start to try and pin down the size of the company.   While asking annual turnover is one of the questions, how many employees seems to define it for my questioners.  I am sure it is possible that men do get asked the same questions, too, but I have not observed it!

It is also the compliment, or acknowledgement, with a note of surprise in the voice.   Many of the more high powered women I know, comment that this is pervasive.    You have to develop a sense of humour around this, and just say thank you.

While hostile sexism is easy to recognise, and counter, benevolent and ambivalent sexism are much more difficult to handle.

You can start to come over as "whiney" and "difficult" because what is being said sounds positive.   And men suffer from it, too.   Rikki Rogers has written a very interesting article "Woman are kind, and men are strong...." which outlines how both sexes are damaged by gender generalisation.

One of my favourite examples is the Yvonne Brill obituary.   She was a rocket scientist whose press obituary focused on her maternal and culinary skills.   The Broad Side wrote a spoof obituary for Albert Einstein, using the same method.   While I am sure she loved being a mom and a great cook, the reason she was being featured in the newspaper was for her science expertise, which was treated as an afterthought.

Its all about striking the right balance, both in how we live and how we are thought of in the work place.

Try for a light, but firm, touch when confronting benevolent sexism, but do confront it.  It needs to be in the open if women are to continue advancing their careers and equalising the pay gaps.

Links, References and Notes
Rikki Rogers
Melanie Tannenbaum
The Broad Side
Sheryl Sandberg


Thank you for reading Teryl@Work.   Should you wish to use any of the material, please acknowledge this blog as the source.

Popular posts from this blog

Resignation - keep building relationships

Resignation – avoid burning those bridges It has been a great pleasure working with a colleague like you. Now, you are off to your next big challenge! Good luck and farewell!
Isn’t that what we all want to hear when we leave?  We were appreciated and we will be missed.
The need for all parties to maintain professional conduct in the event of resignation is critical, particularly now when we are working within an unsettled socio-economic climate. Employees should avoid damaging relationships, and employers need to adopt a neutral approach and ensure that there are policies and processes that enable the separation to be objectively handled.  For example: ·A formal resignation letter is required·A formal acceptance of resignation is issued confirming any special conditions·An exit interview takes place·Handovers are planned and executed
Our HR team advise those who resign their position to adhere to a few golden rules. Failure to do so could harm whatever bonds have been formed at the workpla…

It's Not Your Fault, But..

It’s Not Your Fault, But…
Its’s not mine, either. When something goes wrong, whether at work or home, most people immediately start casting around for somebody to blame. Over the weekend, I was reading and drinking a cup of coffee which was perched on the arm of the couch.  I do this daily, and have never spilled it.   My daughter came into the room, I put my reader down next to me and we started chatting.  A little later, I picked the reader up, turned to my coffee, and knocked it over.  Something in my expression caused her to ask whether it was her fault.  Of course, it wasn’t, but a mean, small part of me was thinking, well, no, but if you hadn’t come in the room…  And she was kind enough to help me clear it up!
If that lamp post wasn’t there If that faster person wasn’t in the race If the traffic light hadn’t turned red at just that moment If we hadn’t hired Joe, I would have got the promotion If, if, if….. We are very quick to accept the “if” when it is about us, and much slower to do so…

It's Not My Job

It’s Not My Job
Assuming that there are reasons for saying this: 1.It’s not your job and is totally is outside of your skill set 2.It’s not in your KPIs and you don’t want to do it 3.You believe you are being exploited and want to draw a line as to what you will and won’t do. Outside your skill set This is reasonable and there could be many scenarios where this is appropriate
·Where there is a safety or special licence requirement to do the job eg driving a forklift truck
·Where there is a formal qualification like giving legal advice
·Where additional qualifications are required as in a medical doctor without surgical qualifications or experience

Not in my KPIs This response could be perceived as a lot more negative, not to mention career limiting. If there is a good reason why you can’t step outside your pure job description, share that immediately.  ·“I would love to be able to help, however, I need to complete this project by 5 pm today and I am out of the office all day tomorrow at our larg…