Creating Women Friendly Workplaces in the Exponential Age

Stop chasing women around desks, making silly sexist and sexually explicit jokes, lifting their skirts and squeezing their breasts. Treat them fairly and respectfully and pay them what’s due to them. There. Done. End of blog post.


Oh how I wish it were that simple. For some reason, the equitable treatment of women in workplaces and other spaces in society is still “an issue” in 2018. You’d think that decades after the burning of bra’s we’d be somewhere far. You’d think that with women proving themselves more than capable in all sectors of national economies, we’d be done with these issues. But no. We’re still here. Fact is, workplaces and organizations are not exempt from wider dysfunctional societal dynamics. All that we do, every single day, when we clock in to the place we call “work”, is, we clock ourselves in: our beliefs, our perceptions about the other, our prejudices, our examined and unexamined thoughts and ways of being. We are not robots.


To expect a sexist, chauvinistic male to suddenly, quite miraculously, become a champion of his female colleagues’ right to be treated like human beings in the boardroom is literally us setting ourselves up for major disappointment. If there is anything that #MeToo and #Time’sUp and other similar movements have to teach us is that we human beings sometimes have a huge capacity for cognitive dissonance. How does the reality of our female-objectifying culture supposed to suddenly transform itself in the boardrooms, hallways, film sets, restaurant kitchens, legislatures and all the other spaces where men and women interact? Just have a look at popular culture especially television: the object is unequivocally female.


Who watches these explicit music videos where the women are always almost-naked and men fully clothed? The same guy you’re sitting next to during the presentation on the latest sales training evaluation is likely looking at your breasts and imagining Sexy Fox, the video vixen, doing “things” to him. And there you are telling him about mid-term evaluations and how the Rand tanking doesn’t bode well for the funding application that’s just been submitted to Organization X. You’re moving your lips, but you might as well be a piece of talking steak my dear. It’s really sad and it has come to a point where when a man genuinely wants to strike up a platonic conversation you’re not sure what they’re really after. It’s not a healthy way to live at all and in fact, one of my recent interviewees, Dr. Ela Manga, an Integrated Medicine Specialist, says that this adrenalized state we women are constantly in (because we’re always scanning the environment for threats, the ever-present male threat) we are in turn being impacted in terms of our health. How would you feel my brother if you were to spend every waking moment being chased around a desk?


All that women want is to work in a supportive environment, deliver on their mandate, work with human beings who respect their work and what could be achieved collaboratively. Being in a state of constant jumpiness because of the threat of being propositioned is not a nice way to live. I think men need to understand that, we are over that. We do not want to feel like anyone’s prey in work or other environments. Can we be allowed to work, can we be allowed to think about the task at hand without having to also think about avoiding the lifters of skirts and squeezers of breasts?


But it starts in the way that we are socializing little boys, the youth and ultimately, the men they become. If I had a magic wand I would take down every music video that objectifies women. I would stop this “sex sells advertising” where even to sell a mop, whoever makes these decisions feels that for the mops to move off the shop floor they have to be accompanied by an image of a naked woman extolling the virtues of the frequent mopping of floors. How do we expect to be taken seriously anywhere else if our bodies are used to push products and services? I don’t see naked men selling me lipstick so why should a woman’s near-naked form motivate a man to buy a sportscar? What are we saying really? What’s the deeper message being communicated here and by whom? Who’s this Only Sex Sells Guru? Where does he live? I’d really love to sit down with him.


When Harvey Weinstein, the first domino to fall in the scandal that would birth #MeToo and #Time’sUp, was exposed for being a serial harasser and rapist, we all reacted with shock and horror! Why? Because I think we’d bought into the hype of the mission statements and visions, policies and summits and laws and agendas and all these optical illusions communicating a subliminal message that indeed the world of work is safe for women. That women can thrive, at least in the sense of not being pawed by their male colleagues and bosses at every turn like pieces of meat on a braai stand. But no, turns out, the sexual harassment of women is literally a ninja on Quaaludes. For the uninitiated, Quaaludes is the date rape drug that Bill Cosby used to rape women over a period spanning decades.


Mine is to say, perhaps let’s rather focus on shifting mindsets and attitudes at a broader societal level. If the workplace is a male domain (really, after all these decades it’s still “their” place?) and women are seen as interlopers, then take both the girl and the boy child to work so that this boy child is not shocked 20 years down the line when he has a female boss. Twenty years down the line may just be too late with politically correct tick box seminars, workplace rules and regulations and trying to throw money and fancy words at the problem.