In this guest post, Helen Jamieson, Diversity & Inclusion specialist and HR training business owner shares her experience of the #MeToo movement.
In the last eighteen months, since the birth of the #MeToo movement, much has been talked about in the workplace of unwanted sexual advances. Typically, but not always, this has related to senior men taking advantage of women who are junior to them. Some of those men either overtly or covertly even demand sex in return for opportunity, pay rises and promotions.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this behaviour at play during my own career on many occasions – serious stuff that deserves the attention it garners. However, little has been or continues to be said about the more general belittling of women and young ladies and the long-term impact that has.
A CEO once said to me: ‘You’re just a little girl Helen, what would you know?’ I was in my early thirties at the time with three children and had already built and sold one business. I was challenging the business strategy of a business that I was a director of. Just six months later this business was closed down on the recommendations of auditors who confirmed everything I said. It worked though……his belittling made me doubt my abilities, my business instincts and, above all, ensured I knew my place. His words, not that he would have known that, reinforced messages I had received throughout my childhood and early adulthood about my competence, my place, and my value in the world.
I had little to offer…. men didn’t want my opinions…. business is for men……
The cumulative effect was why I felt unable at that time to defend myself or fight back. It was simply easier to put up and shut up and slink away back to my desk.
I have experienced this belittling too many times to count across my career. Interestingly from women too. So, let’s not just focus on the impact men have in the workplace. I recall one friend greeting me by saying: ‘How’s the business? I don’t suppose you’ll ever get it to make money?’ Wow! Way to go to ensure I have a few more limiting beliefs! Another friend asked me to deliver training for her company. She then expressed surprise at my commercial rates – like I’m not good enough to demand market rates.
My business life has been an environment created by family, friends and a business network of low expectations, throw-away comments, insinuations about lack of business nous or ‘gravitas’ etc. I have succeeded in spite of all this, but am left wondering daily how very much more successful I might have been had I set up and grown my business in an environment of high expectation, perceptions of competence rather than incompetence and positive support rather than constant jibes (whether intended or not). I won’t let it get me down or take away from what I have achieved, but I can’t help wondering.
Who in your workplace is regularly put down rather than built up?
Take a minute to look around you! Who keeps their head down and shoulders hunched rather than striding through your corridors? Which long standing employee recently returned from maternity leave and was ridiculously grateful to be offered a role more junior than the one they competently held just 12 months earlier? Madness!
There is truly a mountain of untapped female potential out there if only more attention was given to spotting and supporting those who glide or slide through the workplace corridors shrouded in a cloak of invisibility built up in response to years of belittling and low expectations.
My pragmatic inner voice tells me that the belittling and consequent loss of potential to businesses will never be addressed for as long as #MeToo keeps everyone talking about sex, sex and more sex. Other hugely damaging, but less headline-grabbing behaviours simply never get noticed or discussed. While campaigners such as the women behind #EverydaySexism have done a great job in highlighting these normalised incidents, they are often talking to each other in a bubble, with men (and some women) uninterested or threatened by the insinuation that they might be part of the problem.
Insinuations of incompetence. Belittling of opinions. Language that demeans or suggests junior-ority (we have seniority so why not juniority?). It’s time to start noticing it and it’s definitely time to stamp it out. So where, how and when are YOU going to start? We are ALL part of the problem, so let’s ALL take responsibility for dealing with it.