Creating a Gender-Neutral Workplace
Do you sometimes exhibit sexist behaviours without realising it?
Like our incompetent bartender, most people exhibit sexist attitudes without realizing it. While I don’t think we should have a gender-neutral planet – women and men are, after all, different – we should be striving for a gender-neutral workplace – a meritocracy. When I worked in an office I had an equal mix of male and female bosses, so I have some thoughts on how to create a workplace blind to gender.
Three Basic Rules
Relax. The worst thing anyone can do is walk on eggshells. If you’re a man, resist that urge to treat women like delicate pieces of china. The key is to simply be professional. Overdoing the ‘chivalry’ is just another form of sexism, because you’re assuming women can only tolerate certain ranges of behaviour. And women do the same to men, sometimes, when they assume we can only communicate in curse words, dirty jokes, and sports metaphors.
Stay Cerebral. The easiest way to not get into trouble when dealing with co-workers of another gender is to focus on the work and not get caught up in physical appearance or emotional states. There’s nothing wrong with compliments, or asking after families and our weekend activities, but commenting on someone’s physical appearance is almost always a path to awkwardness. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you should treat your co-workers like distant cousins.
Think About Equality. We all bring certain gender attitudes with us into the office – it’s unavoidable. If you pause to think about yours you’re more than halfway towards making sure they don’t cause problems. The key to a gender-neutral workplace is not overdoing your behaviour towards one half of the workforce.
Going out of your way to compliment the women’s contributions, for example, does not even things out, it makes the women feel either like it’s surprising that they have done a good job, or that you’re being insincere in your praise – while the men may feel like you’re unfairly praising their colleagues. Reward contributions evenly – and punish mistakes fairly as well.
Everyone’s goal should be to do the best work possible. We all know that it comes down to individual ability, which has nothing to do with gender or race or religion, and everything to do with drive, work ethic, and intelligence. Keep this in mind and we won’t have any awkwardness in the office.
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