Listening to the gut feeling

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It’s probably a weird hobby, but I tend to go to a lot of job interviews, even when I am not  actively searching for a job. Sure, I don’t apply for anything I wouldn’t want or for which I am not qualified (obviously I wouldn’t be invited to an interview without qualifications). I have probably written somewhere before that I think keeping the interview skills sharp is important, and even if I can’t claim to be brilliant at interviewing skills, despite my keeping my “hat in the ring”, I would be even worse if I weren’t actively practicing.

Because this is a common enough occurrence in my life, as a hobby, I give the process and the part of the process that involves gut feeling, a lot of thought. Possibly I am more interested in worklife/human resource linguistic anthropology than in getting jobs. I’ve written before about red flags and alarm bells experienced in interview situations. Sometimes, though, things are even more subtle. You get a sense for a company culture by the small things you see and observe. You might be wrong about the impression you get, but ultimately those impressions matter. You probably aren’t going to feel particularly comfortable in these places if you do get these inexplicable feelings or unusual observations.

I am thinking now about a few other examples. I had a great series of interviews with a company but to start with they rescheduled interviews multiple times throughout the process. I am flexible, so this was okay, especially when we were doing Skype calls and could be flexible. But then they invited me for some final interviews, which required moving around a lot of my schedule and traveling at the last minute. I flew to the city where the company was located. And late in the evening the night before the interview, they emailed to ask if I would mind postponing an entire day. Not just a few hours but an entire day. I already had my tickets to return home in the evening, after the originally scheduled interview. Looking back, maybe I should have said no. Instead I agreed to the change but told them that it was really inconvenient.

In the end, even though the interviews went well, I noticed as soon as I went to the offices that everyone I saw in the office except for a receptionist, everyone I talked to, everyone who was referred to as being a part of the global organization, was a man. And when they talked about their customers, they kept referring to the men who use these products and their wives. It may well be that the majority of their customers are men, but the framing was (unintentionally) gender imbalanced. And later, when they called to tell me it had been a hard decision, narrowed down to one other person and me, they ultimately hired the other person – a man. I don’t necessarily think that was conscious or had anything to do with it, but it was something that I clearly observed. The gender imbalance coupled with the multiple last-minute shifts in schedule led me to think that it was a good thing that things didn’t work out.

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

 

 

 

Gender on Ice

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Yesterday I wrote about getting locked out of a building when it was -5C, and likened it to be left out on the ice, which kicked my memory into high gear, leading directly to a book I had to read during my master’s program. It was called Gender on Ice, and it was one of the few books in the program that I just could not get into. I barely remember it, and I am not even sure that I finished reading it at all. I recall clearly the seminars I had to attend, listening to all my classmates discuss the book, and several students being quite impassioned about it. At the time I could not imagine why. Now that I am almost 20 years removed from that (dear god – 20 years!), I wonder what I would make of the book now. Its theme – two polar explorers whose accounts of their feats were laden with self-congratulations and declarations of pioneering heroism and analysis of “the particular imperial and masculinist ideologies that each characterized” – held no appeal to me at the time. While I had no doubt that the “white man hero/trailblazer” story, excluding the contributions of anyone else, including a black man who accompanied one of the explorers, was entirely true, I think I was tired of the constant analysis of race and gender and all the things that drove my higher education.

But because I was immersed in it, it seemed the norm. This questioning, this struggle, and by extension, the autonomy and freedom to question and struggle on equal footing with everyone else, seemed a given.

It was only later that I considered more carefully that that was the construct and privilege of being at a left-wing, liberal arts college. I have never had to step or live very far outside that bubble but have become much more keenly aware of everything outside that bubble, which makes me question again the materials I read (or half-read) at the time but gave short shrift.

And, just so you know, a dude named Doug who pretends to be something of a Viking – or something – once said that “ice is evil”. I don’t think so, but maybe under such circumstances.

 

Holding court: Leveling the hiring playing field

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In my day, I have done a lot of freelance work in the fuzzy areas of human resources, recruiting, resume/CV editing and coaching. That’s involved a lot of digging into a whole host of things that are related but not central to hiring and candidate marketability. For example, employment law, discrimination and similar topics. This has tangentially led me to a lot of material about gender inequality.

Just today I stumbled onto an article about a job ad that was so ridiculous that it has gone global in its blatant sexism. It encourages women in particular to apply for the content writing/SEO management job because the incumbent will be required to fill in for the receptionist. There’s nothing wrong, as the article points out, with wanting to bring more women into the tech sphere (as most of the job duties described would do) – but the receptionist part is… well, insulting to everyone. (Discouraging, subtly or not, women from going into tech and scientific fields is not a unique phenomenon by any meansinspiring whole white papers on the subject. But it’s far from isolated to technology disciplines. It’s everywhere.)

Much has been made in recent years about the potential benefit to job candidates of “blind applications” in which only qualifications (stripped of any mention of gender, name or other identifying detail) are presented without the applicant’s name. (This is also true in a lot of cases for any group of people – studies have been done to find out whether “name blind” applications will reduce or eliminate racial/cultural discrimination). Anonymized applications, according to IZA World of Labor, will help level the playing field but cannot eliminate all forms of discrimination (what can? There are theories on this, too, such as implementing skills-based, gamified recruiting, competitions, etc. that can also strip away bias). It’s impossible to completely eliminate discrimination when, for example, the discrimination can just be moved to a later point in the hiring process or when contextual information that remains in an application can influence bias (e.g. graduation years/dates, for example. Age discrimination, too, is real).

When I wrote that discrimination is everywhere, and is rampant in technology, check out this article from Slate about the Nancy Lieberman. If you look only at the qualifications for a potential new NBA head coach, she is head and shoulders (forgive the lameness of using that term in relation to basketball) above the others in the list, particularly if you’ve removed all mention of timeframes, gender, etc. She is experienced and decorated. I imagine there are naysayers who won’t accept comparing “women’s sports” and “men’s sports” like for like, but that’s easily negated when you consider that many head coaches have never played professionally in ANY league.

“And while this shouldn’t need saying, it unfortunately does: There would be so many reasons beyond gender to pick Lieberman. She has been committed to the game of basketball for decades. Her passion for the game and ability to convey its nuances are a gift. Lieberman has probably forgotten more about basketball than some coaches will ever know. The award that is bestowed upon the nation’s top women’s collegiate point guard annually has her name on it.

The above blind résumés offer an objective look at why it is time for more women to get opportunities in all of professional sports—they belong there and would have a chance to help teams. The myth that an NBA head co ach had to actually have played in the NBA—one of the last arguments of opponents of female NBA coaches—has long ago been dispelled. Four of the above NBA assistant coaches never played in the NBA, and all are qualified to some degree or another for a head coaching job. Almost half of the current 30 head coaches in the NBA never played in a single game in the league. Two of those coaches—Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra—have won a combined seven NBA championships.

In today’s professional climate it has generally become accepted that an applicant for an open position will be judged on merit, experience, and ability to complete a job without facing discrimination based on race, gender, religious beliefs, or inclusion in any other protected class.”

 

Sexism, misogyny, racism and inequality in women’s sports

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The tension and irritation has been building up in me for a long time, even though I was unaware of its presence and imperceptible growth. I am not an athlete nor am I someone who has been vocally feminist for much of my life. I had a few conversations with former colleagues – women who were much older than me, who had been through some of the trials of being the only woman working in a completely male-dominated workplace (an air traffic control center). It’s not as though women are not expected somehow – still – to take notes and make the coffee, but back then it was not just understood but was blatantly stated as a requirement and not questioned. Fighting against these slights in daily work life has never been a conscious part of my life. But strides made by women who came before me paved the way for me not to have to think about such things (as well as the installation of automatic coffee machines!).

I believe wholeheartedly in equality for everyone – and I mean everyone – but when I undertook a master’s program in gender studies, the extremes of feminist theory put me off by being so anti-man. I have not personally suffered – to my knowledge – for being a woman, and I am sure that in some measure this is because I am a white woman who, in the Nordic countries where I live, blends into the scenery and enjoys the privilege that comes from so many different aspects of the accident of my birth and the conscious choice of where I live (which is another layer of privilege – having the choice to decide where to live and to go there).

Similarly Scandinavia conscientiously attempts to lead the way on matters of equality. It does not always succeed, sometimes tripping over itself trying to be “too fair” or politically correct and coming out looking foolish. But the thinking is in the right place. I also say that I have not “consciously” suffered because I don’t know that we are always aware of the things we are numb or indoctrinated to. While no man is outwardly making lewd remarks or insisting that I do something degrading or something that is anything other than equal to what he would do, there have probably been times that I was perceived or treated as “lesser than” because I am a woman. I have been blissfully ignorant to this, if and when it did happen, because my life has still been lived on my terms and has been relatively easy to boot.

Revealing this as my backdrop, I can’t really explain what incensed me and pushed me over the edge about sexism, misogyny and racism in women’s athletics. Not even looking at the flat-out stereotypes any longer (as though all women athletes must exist at caricature-like extremes, i.e. either women who appear as masculine, steroid-pumped sportsmen-lesbians from Cold War era East Germany or ultra-feminine, would-be fashion models who look cute in a short skirt). Either direction these stereotypes travel, they smack of objectification and are on display for the criticism and analysis of the world (and it’s not just men engaging in the bitterest criticism). Not because they are athletes in the public eye but because they are women.

We can see this dynamic quite publicly and visibly played out in the form of Bruce Jenner, former Olympic champion, who is now known as Caitlyn Jenner. As Bruce the athlete, no one would have questioned how he looked or would have sexualized his existence to the degree that all women athletes put up with today. And as Caitlyn, she is suddenly subject to this kind of scrutiny. Jon Stewart explained it best in a recent episode of The Daily Show. Now, suddenly, as a woman, Jenner’s worth is all tied up in her “fuckability” and her beauty.

This holds true for women athletes the world over. And when it is not explicitly about their bodies as objects, and how their bodies and fashion sense reflect on their character (!) or deservedness to win (!!) (e.g., when a Wimbledon winner (Marion Bartoli) is ripped to shreds because she is “too ugly and/or too fat” to win), it’s about the invisibility or lack of support for their sports. FIFA‘s (soon-to-be-former president) Sepp Blatter infamously remarked that women’s football might be more popular if they wore tighter/shorter shorts; Al Jazeera reported on the discrimination against female footballers in Brazil while The Atlantic reports that Brazil’s biggest male footballer makes 15 million USD a year, while its biggest female football star cannot find a team to play for. Al Jazeera and more recently John Oliver highlighted the sexist inequality of FIFA insisting that the women’s World Cup be played on artificial turf rather than grass.

All of this is frustrating but not quite the infuriating push I needed to get really angry. Instead, Serena Williams’s win at the French Open this weekend finally made me seethe with rage. Looking at her winning history, she is singularly the greatest female tennis player ever to play the game. Can she be recognized simply for these record-breaking achievements in athleticism and sporting victory? No.

No one is or has been (in recent memory) more susceptible to the powerful and ugly forces of sexism, misogyny, racism and inequality than Serena Williams.

If all female pro-athletes, particularly in a “demure” arena like tennis, are treated like sex objects who should be supermodels, what can we expect? And when the kind of racially charged, barely veiled racist language cues come into play on top of the sexism and objectifying, shouldn’t every woman be angry?

**Edited later to note that The Atlantic published a piece on French Open men’s champion, Stan Wawrinka, which states: “It’s that Wawrinka doesn’t look or comport himself like a Grand Slam champion. From his bright pink “pajama” shorts to his faintly dadboddish physique, the Swiss native looks more like someone you’d find at Home Depot than Roland Garros.” Finally someone jumps on what a man looks like and how he “comports” himself. Equality, right?

Trials of being a woman – Gender trap

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There must be a lot of overly aggressive, unhinged cab drivers. I came across this article about a girl taking a cab ride that took a turn for the creepy, and I remembered my own very similar taxi ride in from JFK into the city. All the same feelings the girl describes crossed my mind. Was I soon going to be dead or raped? All the weird suggestions and insistence on “being in love” with me, after having me, a complete stranger with a language barrier in his cab for five minutes, also came to pass. This cab driver was Egyptian, and even though I took a different path from the girl in the article – I lied and said I was in a relationship, he was persistent about his love and how I should call him any time, night or day while in the city. He was pushing and pushing and really had no concept of how uncomfortable a trap the whole thing felt.

The article triggered not just this unpleasant memory but memories of all the times, as a woman, that I have been in uncomfortable situations like this. How many times have I wanted to be completely invisible or genderless? How is it that these men have no sense of how threatening, frightening, disgusting and discomfort-inducing these kinds of persistent and horrifying encounters are?

The admin mindset

I was recently in a meeting in which one of the middle-management layer (a middle-aged woman) kept repeating, rather inexplicably, “If you get anyone treating you like you’re an admin, giving you admin tasks, push back. We are professionals.” No one has treated anyone like an admin, so I could only assume that this “admin mindset” is internal. Yes, there was a time and a place – and there probably still is – where this treating employees (especially women) as admins was/is common. But in this situation, the admin mindset was all about self-assigning value to work. Somehow, despite this woman being in a senior position, she was assigning this label to herself. And maybe people do treat her like an admin because she sets herself up to be a kind of senior-level, paper-pushing process goblin.

I wanted to say to her: “You feel like an admin because you act like an admin”. Sure, people may not understand what you do, but the perception you talk about is your own. Is it the person’s age? The lack of self-confidence? The sense of going crazy?