Is There Really Gender Equality in the Workplace in 2021?

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Words by Diana Milena Lopez Duque

 
“Since the very first time I met my manager, I was shocked when he told me that he can’t stand a woman who gives him orders or who earns more than him. But that wasn’t the worst part. Months later, I had to quit my job and seek immediate mental health support because of him. He broke me professionally but also emotionally,” – explained Monica*, a young resilient migrant woman who came to Australia in search of better opportunities.
 
As migrant women, we have to face many situations, good and bad, ups and downs. Monica knew that from the beginning. However, she’d never expected a man to manipulate her and damage her self-worth. She was the front of the house of an important business club in Melbourne. Since day one, her manager has been very tough. He often ignored her, manipulated her and didn’t like customers or anyone else approaching her to say “thank you”. To add insult to injury, he took credit for her work. 
 
But that behaviour wasn’t exclusive to her. It was the same for all the female staff. “Sometimes, when I was talking with another woman about work, he would loudly say: you are wasting time or gossiping. I can tell you plenty of bad experiences with him mansplaining [1] to us, using aggressive behaviour, and telling us to shut up. Once, he changed some work passwords using French words that mean “bitch”. I knew the meaning of those words because I also speak French” – added Monica. 
 
Shaila*, another migrant woman, had a similar experience. She was working as a cleaner and her boss constantly made negative comments, mansplaining to her “If you don’t like it just tell me, and I will hire a man because they are faster, stronger, and are more capable.” She was a good employee, responsible, and dedicated to her work. “That was terrible for me. I’ve never felt less like a human being in any other job. I was so depressed. One day I came back home crying saying to my boyfriend, “you will probably never have to experience this type of abuse because you are a man” – she explained. Shaila quit, and her boss hired a man and paid him more money.
 
This happens more often than we think, and some women don’t realise they have been on the receiving end of mansplaining [2]. Anita* is a second-generation Australian and volunteers as head of the owner’s committee in her building. “We have major rectification works going on over the next three months. I have instigated the project from lobbying the government to overseeing the assessment of the works. At first, the site manager and most of the construction company’s people treated me like a nice woman with no idea about the building industry. While I don’t know all the details of construction, I’ve learned a lot over the ten years of doing this. The power games and patronising explanations seem designed to ignore any input I may have and to make me shut up so they can do the job their way, even though I am the client! These are some of the worst mansplaining incidents I have experienced”.
 
According to Laura Bates from The Guardian, these interactions are the visible manifestation of societal assumptions about women’s inferiority in intellectual and professional situations. They represent the same ingrained stereotypes that lead to less frequently promoted or hired for specific jobs. [3]
 
That’s the way Monica felt, inferior. She worked in the business club for seven months. Even though she talked several times with the owner, the situation got worse. “One night, I decided to face my manager. When we talked about the situation, I felt so much pressure that I burst into tears and ran away. The next week the manager didn’t come back. However, one of his friends from the staff was stalking me every day. That pushed me so hard emotionally that I broke down. I was working in hell. One month later, I quit and looked for a psychologist. I had to leave my studies. It wasn’t very easy. At that time, the Pandemic hit. So, I couldn’t find a job. My parents had to send me money to survive.” she said. Even though it was a challenging moment, she had the strength to face that situation and months later found a job that she loves. 
 
With a kind smile on her face, Monica now says, “you have to keep believing in yourself. Although people want to diminish you in some way, don’t listen to them, don’t tolerate them. You have to be true to yourself and believe that what you do and what you are is very valuable”.
 

Female and male talk about the cases of Monica, Shaila and Anita

I invited Rana Ebrahimi, Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network Australia National Manager; Niti Nadarajah, Senior Counsel; Alex and Peter** (two men from other companies) to talk about those mansplaining cases. Two women and two men to give equal voice to both genders.
 
For Rana and Niti, it’d be harder to find a woman who’s never been the victim of mansplaining than the other way around. Even in a professional environment, it can happen on multiple occasions and many women in leadership positions have experienced it at some point in their lives. Rana, for example, has been on the receiving end of mansplaining herself. 
 
One of her experiences was when she had to do an applied research project for an organization and they decided to bring in a third party. That third party manager was a man. In their first meeting, they were all women, except the man. While Rana was doing her presentation, the man was jumping in picking up on what she was saying and even questioning her capabilities. “A few times I had to stop him and say “I’m speaking”. The others saw the situation, but no other woman actually supported me. That was very heartbreaking. I didn’t have an ally.”
 
Here we can see that mansplaining can happen at all organizational levels, even in horizontal positions where everyone is in a flat management structure, contrary to Monica and Shaila cases in which the person mansplaining to them was in a hierarchical power position. Another recent and controversial example was that of Queensland’s Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk when she was mansplained to by the Australian Olympics chief, John Coates, who ordered her to attend the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, despite previously saying she would not attend.
 
I asked Peter and Alex what they think the root cause of this behaviour is. According to Alex “there is a big component linked to stereotypes, ‘historical-cultural acceptance’ and ignorance. When I was growing up, boys played with cars and girls played with dolls, and sadly there are still a lot of places in society where it is easier to judge someone or treat someone for what ‘they are supposed to do or know’, rather for what they actually do, are passionate about or are good at.” Peter added that it happen because “all possible features of the behaviour of the manager: power; control; insecurity; ‘sexist’, gender inappropriate experiences in his past (e.g. childhood; other workplaces; society more broadly; etc.); and a belief that women are less likely to challenge and respond.”
 
That situation can also affect the migration experience. “Women (and even men) who migrate from overseas are typically doing so in pursuit of a better life for them (and perhaps for their families). They may have left the comfort of their extended family and secure jobs and reputation to try and start afresh. To be patronised, mansplained to or simply belittled does little to then help them settle into their new home and likely makes them question their decision to move to Australia in the first place”, explained Niti. 
 
Alex, for example, is a white migrant male and when he came to Australia he felt something that he has never felt before, “someone being condescending with me when explaining something at work. Not a good feeling. If you add that to what women go through with mansplaining, it’s got to be a multiplier that will affect self-confidence.”According to Rana, the experience of migrating in itself is difficult and it’s worse for a young migrant woman. You question yourself, your skillset and your English. The language barrier is something nearly everyone struggles with. “You need to remember that English is a language, it doesn’t mean intelligence. You are intelligent enough. You just speak another language, which makes you stronger and more skilful and capable.”
 

Some recommendations

Niti said “Firstly, we need to talk about it. People need to share their stories so that others can understand the impact these types of behaviours have on individuals. Secondly, we need workplaces to take active steps to address these types of behaviour when they arise, including through disciplinary action.” Peter explained that organizations should think in ‘D&I’ training/education as part of ALL induction programs and be reinforced by ongoing ones. Also, strong and trusted coaching/counselling/mentoring programs that can foster the affected person having someone that they feel that they can confide in. Finally, whistleblower avenues for staff.” 
 
On the other hand, according to Rana, a lot of men may not necessarily know that they’re doing this. So there is the need to do some awareness-raising that it is actually something that they are doing. “If you’re unconscious about that, or you don’t know, that’s not good. You need to know that it’s not good.” To that, Alex added, “please assess the situation. We are at a pivotal point in history, where many people want to change and do better, they just might not know they are incurring hurtful behaviour because nobody has told them before, it’s always better to try to have a conversation before a confrontation.” 
 

Final thoughts 

“We need to support each other. Gender inequity is happening, We don’t call it out. And it’s not right. And the best question: is that person doing the same to a man? If the answer is yes, then probably that’s a behaviour problem. It’s bullying. But if that person is just doing it to women that means that it’s mansplaining and gender inequity. ” said Rana. “The beauty of humanity is to learn and evolve. If you take the time to learn about people, their skills, their passions, you realise we can all do way better.” finalized Alex.

 
Mansplaining can be the trigger to put a woman in a condescending situation or make her feel inferior intellectually. A big problem that affects the confidence of anyone. That is the reason why we need to open spaces to generate discussion. We need to educate people and create awareness around this. We are here to celebrate our differences. But the most important thing for you, powerful migrant woman reading this, is that you are the only one who can choose what affects you and what doesn’t. DON’T GIVE OTHERS THE POWER TO LET YOU DOWN. You are good enough. You don’t need to prove to anyone who you are, only to yourself. And please, speak up.
 
 
*All the names for the cases were changed to protect their privacy.
**They asked to change their names not to be identified.

Sources/Notes

[1.] According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, mansplaining is “to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she does not know the topic”

 

[2.]https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mansplain

 

[3.] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/sep/13/mansplaining-how-not-talk-female-nasa-astronauts