Sexual harassment has been highlighted by the mass walkout of Google employees, but we should not forget its thriving twin: discrimination.
Women still have a difficult time in the workplace even when not being harassed by men, despite all the words and promises and Government interventions.
We are still excluded from promotion, disparaged for appearance, resented for ambition. The President of the United States still seems to prefer objectifying women as ‘beautiful’ to describing them as ‘accomplished’. And for every effort to present us in TV series as bomb disposal experts, snipers and tough-talking politicians – often in the same episode, as happened in BBC’s Bodyguard - most of us know that life remains a daily tightrope walk between our own hopes and male egos.
Whilst it was heartening to see Google’s (male) senior executives apologising for the treatment of sexual harassment allegations and sympathising, we might reflect that if a company as dynamic, progressive, youthful and dominating as Google has issues, where does that leave the general run of lower profile organisations?
In my own long career I have suffered both sexual harassment and discrimination. Most women experience one or the other or both. That is the reality of life and it needs to change.
We as women also need to break down the what might charitably be called the ‘unconscious male bias’ in the workplace, one which still sees us channelled to the softer skills, excluded from real decision-making, and kept out of the conversation. To do otherwise is also the worst kind of corporate negligence. Women should be properly respected for their instinct to the collegial, commitment and ability to empathise. We need to drive that message home now more than ever. What was a right is now a necessity that human self-interest alone should be pushing. Emotional skills are what companies need increasingly to stand out and succeed in a knowledge economy, which may soon be most of what the developed world has left with which to employ itself as artificial intelligence and robotics strip away more and more of the transactional and mechanical aspects of work.
We need as men and women to compete equally with each other for the greater benefits that brings to all of us, not, as is so often the case, make gender a barrier or threat.
Everyone knows this, and everyone accepts it in public. Yet men still seem reluctant to yield more ground than they have to, and always it seems to happen one protest or scandal at a time.The depressing truth is that male indifference and gender-excluding clubbiness have shaped the world in which we live and continues to do so. How is it for you? I thought so. If more women had a chance, instead about having to protest to get one, who can seriously say there would not be more peace, progress, growth and stability?