In recent weeks I followed the – very public – fallout from an article that was written by a CEO in South Africa. The article was sexist and celebrated a patriarchal society and male dominance in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
While working in the UK on a Women’s Empowerment initiative, I first learned about his article when reading about it on the app of a national news agency: fin24. I was outraged that any CEO could be so careless in 2018 and immediately joined the chorus of people condemning his actions; I even wrote about it in my doctoral Transfer paper.
On reflection, my anger turned to deep consideration. I read the article again. I read the comments. I saw how he first kept his job and then how he lost it. And I was concerned over different reasons. He should have known better. The person that published his article should have known better. Did they? Did they even know that they were supporting the very unhelpful dualism of male-vs-female and masculine-vs-feminine?
I was raised in a very patriarchal culture and household in which Women had very different roles than men: there were (and still is!!) a distinction between the Grafters and the Carers. It took me a very long time to step out of this view and to challenge my own development; my first step towards personal transformation was only taken when the hurtfulness of the male-vs-female construct was pointed out to me by one of my Sisters.
A huge part of me hopes that the CEO would not have written that article had he known better. I like my fantasy that his writing was tainted by his implicit (or unconscious) biases and I know that I might be completely wrong about it; that is not for us to decide. And in that I don’t think that we are doing enough in the workplace to help people become aware of their deeply held implicit constructs along which we (all of us!) discriminate; there are so many: race, religious; ethnicity; language; sexuality… etc.
I am not defending the article (I want to be explicit about that). My intention is to question how we stop this from happening again? In answer to that I really – deeply – believe that we can enable change by raising personal awareness (possibly through well-structured training and dialogue), by creating safe relationships (these are possible!) through which we can challenge the status quo, and by constantly questioning our own biases.
How are you raising your self-awareness and the awareness of those around you?
Click HERE to look at my upcoming Unconscious Bias workshop