'Crude name-calling, social stereotypes, and a society moving far too slowly on women’s issues'

In this week’s article Kehlan looks at the issue of women in business and why it should concern men too.

My daughter recently turned one year old. As I’m writing this she’s looking through the bars of the safety gates wondering how the cat always manages to escape.

I hope these will be the last barriers she faces, though I suspect it may not be.

Twenty years from now she will be on her way, forging a career path for herself. In that time there will be many changes in business.

Technology, robotics and social norms should have evolved. Yet I wonder about all the things I know she will almost certainly face at some point in her life.

Crude name-calling, social stereotypes, and a society moving far too slowly on women’s issues.

In the past 20 years, nothing has really changed for women in the workplace. They are still paid less, face judgment on a daily basis and are more likely to be passed over for promotion.

That comes with greater emphasis when the women are of, and I quote from a manager I once spoke to, “of childbearing age”.

Some of the stories I’ve heard from women in business are truly staggering. The time the head of a top consultancy firm was asked “Where the boss was?” while she was at a conference stand.

The time a PR executive was asked to “get the coffees” in a board meeting. The time a woman was bullied and verbally abused so badly at work she nearly lost the baby she was carrying.

It is mind boggling how this still has a place in the business, yet it will come as no surprise that it does.

I’ve started correcting comments by men when inappropriate remarks are made. I am looked at like I am some sort of lunatic for not playing the lads’ game.

I am the odd one out, an irony not seen by people living in the 21st century. Men can be feminists, it’s time more of us were.

However, it does give reason to the heart of the matter on this subject. The problem with women in business is men in business.

If you ever read the regular columns of Louise O’Neill in this newspaper, you’ll have a great insight into the modern and very real issues that women face. If you’re not reading them, you should be.

They are wonderful footnotes to the issues women still go through on a daily basis. The barrage, even from an early age, for young girls and women to conform to certain types is still very much present: this is how you should look, this is how you should act and careers should be chosen with the caveat of whether or not you want to have a family or not.

Be a teacher, you can always get your job back if you have to leave for a while. Don’t be a scientist, the long hours will make it difficult to look after your kids.

You may think this absurd, you may in even laugh about it. But we should really stop pretending that this has gone away. We’re lying to ourselves if we suggest otherwise.

The women who put their head above the parapet are called ‘feminazis’ and man-haters. We don’t seem to have a problem when they move inside their own circles.

The number of groups for women in business grows bigger by the year. But when they attack the system that sidelines them, it becomes a very different story.

Suddenly it’s more “feminazi propaganda”, more anti-men sentiment. The word itself, feminazi, is now used as a shutdown. It’s designed to evoke that image of hysteria and craziness. The image of a nonsensical idea.

I have a wife who is a deep supporter of women’s issues. I have friends who are feminists and very proud of that fact. I can assure you that they don’t hate me. However, they do hate that they will more than likely be paid less for doing the same job as their male counterpart.

This isn’t man hating, it’s hating a system that still supports this. A system in which the decision makers, the ones that set pay and hire, are still most likely to be a man. If you can’t see the correlation between the two, then you’d best invest in a cane. You’re going blind.

If you still think I’m wrong, then it’s time for you to do your own research. Get on the internet and have a look around.

Read some of the comments at the end Louise’s article posts on the Irish Examiner page. Look out for the ‘feminazi’ comments, but look more at the women who reply to posts and the sheer number who agree; who share their own feelings. They are common stories, too common.

Go find some of the chat rooms and comment sites that pour out some of the most disturbing and hateful things you will ever read in your life. Comment threads dedicated entirely to the derision of women. It hasn’t gone away.

We have become too comfortable thinking the glass ceiling has been shattered. Yes, cracks are showing but it’s a long way from being shattered. From Hillary Clinton to the tech scene, all the talk is of the cracks in the glass ceiling. Only cracks, nothing has been broken yet.

I am sometimes amazed when I go on Linkedin; a site that is supposed to be about making business connections.

The comments that some men leave under photos of female users are cringe-worthy. “WOW! You should come work for me sweetheart”, “Wouldn’t mind seeing that in the office everyday” etc. That’s just just the tip of the iceberg.

Last year Charlotte Proudman, a barrister, publicly shamed a fellow professional who commented on a photo she had posted.

She got a phenomenal backlash from people saying that naming him publicly was wrong.

That it painted a singular view of him, this while calling her out for being a feminazi. It’s wonderful ignorance.

As my daughter grows up I fear this subject may never be too far away on the horizon.

I’d like to think that 20 years from now these issues will be something that I can talk about in the past tense. That this will be looked upon as archaic and the remnants of a bygone era.

I have taken it as a given that she will, at some point, be subjected to some sort of sexist behavior.

Never underestimate the power and consistency of human idiocy. Although I can’t control other people, I can instill in her that this is not OK. That she should stand up and call out those who believe that this behavior is still right.

That she has the power to do more, to act.

I hope I never get a phone call from my adult daughter as she looks out the window wondering how another great opportunity has escaped her.


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