Navigating the workplace in the age of #metoo
It might be easy to dismiss the #metoo movement as “man-hating.” Certainly, many of the headline-grabbing accusations of harassment from Harvey Weinstein to the recent allegations about former vice president Joe Biden, involve men. But calling out the behavior of men is not why two Brandman University professors believe this topic continues to be relevant.
“The #metoo movement is really a symptom or consequence of patriarchy. Patriarchy has not gone away,” said Lata Murti, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology.
“We’re saying the structure has been established by men,” added Sheila Steinberg, Ph.D., professor of social and environmental sciences.
Murti and Steinberg co-led a virtual discussion, “Your Career in the Age of Metoo” sponsored by Brandman University's Career Development Office to help attendees navigate the workplace in this new time of empowerment and transparency, help them understand the evolution of gender roles in the workplace, and how to avoid pitfalls and damage to their career. Here are four top takeaways from the webinar:
Practice cultural humility
For the first time, many workplaces may have four generations in the same space. That means four different ideas of genders, and a multitude of other ways culture is defined. Steinberg encouraged participants to think about how practices from our upbringing and ethnic culture can be misinterpreted in the workplace.
“I’m half Indian, and we are respectful to others, especially those who are older. So, I may let an older person speak longer because I’m being respectful. But I’ve had that misinterpreted that I’m being deferential,” she said.
Challenge workplace norms
From the dress code to behavior, rethink what “powerful” and “professional” means in the workplace. The idea of keeping emotions out of the workplace is tied to the stereotypical notions or ideas of masculine behavior; that emotion is the opposite of power. Emotion such as anger can be a powerful means to productivity, if channeled correctly towards positive outcomes.
“A lot of women have been told to ‘relax’ and not come across as anxious or angry. And sometimes I feel it’s being told not to be ambitious. There’s a lot to be anxious about. I think particularly as a woman in the workplace, being told to ‘relax’ is not always taken well,” Murti said.
Ongoing discussions need to take place for change to happen. Not everyone has the same definition of respect and dignity, and what that looks like. Communication prevents someone from feeling silenced at an individual or group level.
Understandably, men, in particular, may be rethinking – or overthinking – how their behavior has contributed to the #metoo movement. What they may have thought was an innocent interaction, or a compliment may have actually been patronizing or intimidating. Or was it? Context and conversations can bring awareness and agreement on the acceptable behavior in the workplace.
“The downside of the #metoo movement is men are afraid, for sure, and with good reasons. Because a lot of norms have changed and that’s what the movement has done. We don’t want to scare men. We’re just trying to say, ‘Women have rights to not be a chair or table. We are not furniture,’” said Steinberg.
If you missed the webinar or want to catch a replay, those with access to My.Brandman.edu can watch it here.
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