Change and culture

So i suppose fair warning to my ‘readership’ this piece touches on issues of gender and culture and expresses views that some members on the left might find – regressive.

– The Brave Bothan

So today something happened – Certainly a thing that I didn’t find comfortable or endearing in the slightest; but I would like to put it here to provoke thought.

Annually the organisation that I work for hold a series of training seminars to ensure that employees are up to date on what management consider to be corporate culture for the firm. For the last half a decade or so these have necessarily included a section or two on gender and gender politics both within and without the workplace.  I attended one such seminar today – and was caught in one of the most uncomfortable intellectual and moral positions I have ever been in.

A senior executive was giving a seminar on gender perspectives – with the outcome being mostly advocating for an undefined increase in awareness of cis gender perspectives, which was annoying in and of itself. During the course of this seminar the executive shared an anecdote about a consultation with foreign nationals that the firm had been involved with. It was a shelter development project for impoverished peoples as part of a government sponsored aid program.

A design consultation session had been held with all the tribal elders of the region – who due to the region’s gender politics were all male. After the completion of the consultation session the firm built the shelters to specification. The flaws were apparent only after completion of the program – these shelters lacked a kitchen…

Corporate embarrassment aside – the executive at this point made the quip that if only one single woman had been involved with the planning process this glaring oversight surely would have been rectified…. as women inherently solve these types of domestic problems…..

My heart veritably broke.

Here was a senior executive member of the firm not only committing a correlation/ causation fallacy – which is embarrassing and horrific enough in and of itself – but ostensibly under the auspices of promoting gender equality she was committing such a fallacy without realizing the ways in which she was confirming negative gender stereotypes.

I honestly didn’t know what to do – Any attempt I could have made to publicly correct her concept of gender relations and roles would have only served to diminish the overall intent of the seminar. But failure to correct such regressive and patriarchal stereotypes would be to allow those values to suffuse the outcomes of the seminar.

I was caught – trapped but the desire not only to not rock the corporate boat and undermine a senior executive – but also completely and painfully aware that by saying nothing I was allowing a whole room full of people, representing all facets of the company, to take in and perhaps internalize and unknowingly regressive stereotype.

To my shame at the time of writing I stayed silent.

Despite realizing at the time what had been said and knowing it’s impact I couldn’t muster the courage to fight for the cause the way it ought to have been. I stayed silent – not wanting to undercut, however righteously and senior executive.

The gender stereotypes we have been raised with are insidious in the way they influence our thinking – even when we think to champion the cause we are subject to our own fallibility. I believe that the human giving the brief had every intention of championing a positive case for gender equality they just fell victim to ingrained concepts of gender roles.

I elected to join this human’s committee to try and  shape the way my organisation views and interacts with concepts of gender.

But this doesn’t make me feel better about my cowardice.

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