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Frailty, Thy Name Is Woman


As published by SHRM's We Know Next: found here.

From Shakespeare's Hamlet 1602:

Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on, and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on't—Frailty, thy name is woman!—

Hamlet is angry at his mother for marrying shortly after his father's death.  He sees her as weak.  He generalizes the weakness he sees in his mother to women generally.

No progressive manager would say a sexist comment like that today. Actually, they might, just when they think they are being progressive!

Every responsible employer has a harassment prevention program.  So, managers are more sensitive with what they do and say.  But sometimes their heightened sensitivity takes a dangerous turn.

A business meeting takes place among executives.  There are four men and one woman.  During the meeting, the group realizes they are not going to meet Wall Street's expectations. One of the men snaps "oh f---"  For my friends in Texas, I don't mean "federal."

After he said it, the f-bomber looks to the woman at the table and says “I’m sorry.” Another man at the table digs the hole deeper by adding, “He did not mean to offend you.” (How did he know that?)

By focusing on the one woman at the table, both male executives not only drew attention to her but also suggested that she was a fragile creature who needed to be rescued and protected from their vulgar mouths.

In this not-so-hypothetical example, the woman was not offended by the expletive when it was used in response to bad economic news.  But she certainly did not like the attention being placed on her.  Having finished reading Jane Austen, she was not going to fall off her Victorian chair because of a curse word.  Do you think she never said it, let alone heard it?

In this case, if anything were to be said, it should have been, “Let's keep it professional” without focusing on the woman.

But what if the comment were blatantly sexist?  Shouldn't someone apologize to her now?

No!  Again, that only makes her the focus.  In other words, it makes it worse.  And, it suggests that, were she not there, the sexist comment would have been okay.

The focus should be on the troglodyte. And, one of the men should respond appropriately by saying immediately, "I am offended."  After all, you don't need to be a woman to be offended by sexism any more than you need to be a person of color to be offended by racism.

You need to do more than the right thing....you need to do it the right way.  Pauline does not need to be rescued from her perils.  She just needs an equal opportunity to succeed--or fail--on a level playing fiel

THIS BLOG SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE, PERTAINING TO SPECIFIC FACTUAL SITUATION OR ESTABLISHING AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.

 

 

 
 
 
 

Where in the World Is Aaron Greenberg?


As Published by SHRM's We Know Next: find it here.

I was out of town, more than a thousand miles from my home town, Philadelphia, where I had lunch with some people I had never met. They could not have been nicer and we talked about many things including where we grew up and where we live now.  Being the worldly person I am, I mentioned that I live outside of Philadelphia, about 10 minutes from where I grew up.

Toward the end of the meal, one of my lunch mates asked me if I knew Aaron Greenberg in New York.   I didn’t, so I asked him why he thought I might. I did not want to jump to any conclusions.  He responded honestly:  I just assumed you would.

I told him that I appreciated his honesty, but that even though I am Jewish, I don’t know everyone who is Jewish.  But if he could help me find Aaron Greenberg, my card would be filled and I could get a prize. I explained, gently, that I was kidding, and that even though I love to use Yiddish, I don’t know everyone who is Jewish!

I told the story to an African American colleague who smiled and told me she has had similar experiences. People have asked her about people she would have no reason to know; only common denominator—race.  Gut in Himmel.  (God In Heaven).

We live in a world in which overt bias is less (although still existent).  But that does not mean that there is not bias. Bias is still alive and well, living in the unconscious.

Sometimes, it is tempting to strike back.  Get it. But  we need to try to educate individuals who may not realize the implications of what they are saying.

Consider the following:

  • You don’t sound black.
  • You don’t look Jewish.
  • You don’t act gay.

Scream internally but then ask calmly, "Help me understand:"
"What do black people sound like?"
"What do Jewish people look like?"
"What do gay people act like?"

More often than not, you will be pleasantly surprised with the response when the person realizes that what they said is based on a painful premise: you don’t look like the stereotype I held.

Of course, not always. I wear a replica of my grandmother’s chai (Hebrew for life) and someone once told me I do not look Jewish when they saw it.
When I asked what Jewish people look like, I was told not to be so sensitive.  With a smile, I explained the rule of holes. When you are in one, stop digging.

We all make mistakes. And others will make mistakes, too. As HR professionals, when we hear assumptions (euphemism for prejudging), we have an opportunity to educate. Not everything is disciplinary.

Zero tolerance for good faith mistakes can lead to zero tolerance.   So, if you can, assume good faith and help the person reach his/her higher self.

Of course, this does not apply to hate words and symbols, or the like. There, we don’t educate. We terminate.

As Matt Lauer travels the world,  I have asked him to help me find Aaron Greenberg. No luck, yet.

So, if you find Aaron, please let me know.  I want to complete my card already!

THIS BLOG SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE, PERTAINING TO SPECIFIC FACTUAL SITUATION OR ESTABLISHING AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.

 
 
 
 

Boys' Clubs: The Invisible Affinity Groups


Article I wrote for Business Week:

 http://www.businessweek.com/management/

 
 
 
 
 

Jonathan Segal

Business Ally. Help clients achieve business goals and manage legal risks. Areas of focus include: gender equality; wage and hour compliance; social media; leadership training; union avoidance; performance management; and agreements

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.