In which I wish to puke on someone’s shoes…

Were it not for the fact that these articles crossed my desk within two days of one another, I would probably ignore this. But they appeared in quick succession with the second providing sufficient irritation to push me beyond the ‘you don’t usually rant about this on your blog’ threshold.

Article 1: 10 common body language traps for women in the workplace

This is a very ‘helpful’ WaPo article describing how womens’ basic behaviour is counterproductive in the workplace.  Apparently we shouldn’t be tilting our heads quite as much, or using girlish gestures…

Article 2: ‘Good girls’ don’t rise to the top’  “Female academics would be aided by the introduction of gender-blind peer review and an end to the culture of compliant “good girls” in higher education, a conference has heard.”

This is an ‘interesting’ article concerning certain behaviours of female academics that hold them back in the workplace.  Now while I’m the first to agree that universities, and indeed all aspects of life are filled with PEOPLE (not just men) who speak very assertively but with little meaningful content, I disagree entirely with the premise that it is just women that are held back by not braying about their mediocre achievements to anyone within a 10 mile radius. Apparently we shouldn’t become ‘good girls’ and should avoid being compliant.  Well frankly, it’s going to be impossible for me to become a good girl without a TARDIS: it may surprise readers to know that I am in fact older than 16 and therefore technically not classifiable as a girl in any way[1].

The common ground between these two articles is that the onus is somehow on female professionals to modify their behaviour to compete in a ‘man’s world’.  (The term isn’t used explicitly in either article, but obviously implied). I’m afraid I’m going to have to call bullshit on that (and perhaps go puke on a few shoes).  Let me rephrase: a couple of people have come up with some guidelines on how certain groups in a workplace should modify their behaviour to fit in better. Simply idiotic. If change is going to happen (and it has to), ALL GROUPS in that workplace are going to have to modify their behaviour to fit together better.  It should never be a question of women having to modify their actions to fit into a male dominated workplace, by not smiling or looking at the non-flirtatious part of a man’s forehead (read article 1 if that passes you by).

My suggestion? Everyone should read the first article from the perspective of understanding different behaviours, not making assumptions about what they mean, and learning to adapt to an inclusive culture in the workplace. Perhaps even stepping up once in a while to ensure everyone is heard equally at a meeting, or pointing out that certain turns of phrase are inappropriate [1]. The second article? Well it’s reporting things discussed at a conference, and draws few helpful conclusions other than to point out that the pipeline still leaks, women are still underrepresented (as are many other groups) in academia, and that the culture has to change more to be truly inclusive.


[1] This is high on my list of ‘most patronising and irritating behaviours’ – calling anyone over 16 a girl or boy.  OK you get away with it when you’re in your 70s, but there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for such terms to be used in a workplace.  Age is (unfortunately and often incorrectly) correlated with experience, authority and some other apparently positive attributes, so to refer to someone as a girl or a boy is frankly to diminish their accomplishments and reduce their possibly considerable abilities to that of a small child[2]. Completely unacceptable.  To those who have embraced girl or boy as a symbol of frivolous fun and lightheartedness – on you go, but keep it the hell out of my workplace.  It isn’t a compliment[2], it is patronising and often offensive.

[2] Gotta love it when the footnotes have footnotes, but while we’re on the subject of seemingly innocuous phrases being patronising and non-complimentary, here’s another one: being mistaken for a student.  Yep, being mistaken for an undergraduate student was fun for the first 3 years post graduation. Now, frankly, it’s getting old and tired (as am I, incidentally). It is not a compliment to be mistaken as a student, and the appropriate response on making such a mistake is not to tell the person that it’s a compliment.  The easiest thing to do is move on with the conversation. I get asked this a few times a year, often at open days (particularly if I forget to wear the badge saying Dr). Embarrassment usually ensues, and rightfully so.  If you want to steer clear of this particular pit fall and are attending open days or similar events, may I suggest ‘what do you do here’ as a neutral phrase that avoids making age/appearance related assumptions.  And to people who suggest it is a compliment, perhaps you need to realise that not everyone shares your view of the world and some respect for other people’s point of view might be helpful.


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