The Blindspots Of Men At Work
As a male, I’ve often been blind to the privileges that I have. Working with my partner Kamala has given me a peek into what women endure on a regular basis when running a business, co-operating a company with a man, and the privileges I’m often blind to.
The challenges that a woman faces at work are much bigger than I ever imagined. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal various studies cited the unique challenges of women in the workplace. One of those challenges was how often their assertiveness is negatively viewed and thus hurts their abilities to get high-level positions at work. As a man, this may seem like a small detail, but as male working with a woman and seeing what this really means on a day-to-day basis, it’s huge.
In the article, Facebook’s CEO, Sheryl Sandberg, goes on to illustrate how the gender expectations hurt women’s ability to work hard, feel safe, and go after what they truly want. As I read Sheryl’s article, I started to think about my business partner, Kamala, and how the inequalities at work impact her and our business. Furthermore, I also felt compelled to ask, “What can we do as men to help bridge the gap, help women feel safer at work, and help women have more opportunities in the world?” I ask these questions not only as a male who has worked with hundreds of women as a former counselor but also as a man who wants all women to have better lives – because as anyone’s life improves, so does mine.
How Can Men Help Create More Safety, Balance, And Equality At Work
Ever since Kamala pointed out to me how unfairly she was treated by men – I was forced to look. When she said, “Luis when we interview people on our podcast men often speak to you and almost ignore me. They say your name more often, thank you for the time, and singularly address you in the emails” – I had to take notice. At first, to my embarrassment, I overlooked her plight and brushed it off as insecurity on her part.
Sadly, I was wrong. Her words soon gave light to something I was blind to, something she spoke about at TEDx and something that now is very obvious to me.
As I began to understand and see her point more clearly – I couldn’t be a bystander. My desire to help her grew, my inquiry into what it takes for me as a male to help others not be so blind grew…and so my journey in helping stop this epidemic of inequality at work, at home, and in every area men and women co-exist.
At first, my steps were simple. I began to talk about how Kamala and I were having success at work. I started to make sure that when our company had a win – I included the whole team in the celebration of making it happen, and even giving special attention to Kamala’s role in it. Not because she demanded the extra attention, but because in a culture where women are overlooked, it’s important to counteract that by giving an extra head nod to those that help make dreams happen. When a group, like women, have been silenced we can offset some of that negligence by specifically calling out their contributions to the overall success of a project.
Next, I started to be more cognizant of how guests on our podcast, clients, and the general spoke to Kamala. When they spoke to me and didn’t give us balanced attention, I worked to point out how Kamala’s presence, work, and role. These small changes may seem small, but when we talk about any group of people (men, women, transgender or any ethnicity) these small gestures are huge.
By simply acknowledging someone, we shift the whole dynamic of inequality. In order for inequality to exist, we must first silence them. In our efforts to make sure women are heard we can start a small chain reaction to end abuse (sexual harassment, unlawful and inhumane laws, abuse and bullying).
The Results Show When We Give Space For Voices To Be Heard
As an immigrant child, I was heavily bullied. My accent, my size, and my ignorance of the American culture made me easy prey for bullies. Year after year I suffered because I was different.
It wasn’t until one day another kid, a much older kid, told the other boys to stop messing with me. His gesture made the kids leave me alone. Then he went one step further, asked me my name. He allowed me to speak, he helped me find a voice.
That day my life changed and so did that of everyone who has ever interacted with me. One boy’s gesture to ask me my name, to call of my attackers – transformed not only my life but that of everyone around me. From that day on I began to roam the school more freely, I began to speak up, ask questions and later that led to me being an advocate through my work as a counselor, homeless shelter manager, senior director for one of the largest non-profits, and it’s all looped back around so more people benefit.
When we put an end to the silencing of any group, we also start a chain reaction where new opportunities arise. Those who have been silenced have a contribution to make, they have a genius that can only be found when they are given space and freedom.
Imagine if Albert Einstein was never listened to and shunned away at every turn. What if Thomas Edison was negated his ability to create the lightbulb and relegated to being less than simply because of some attribute…Or imagine if Oprah wasn’t allowed to host her tv show, or if Indira Gandhi hadn’t been allowed to speak up and lead her people to increased peace after the war. Just imagine what your life would be like if your mother was told to shut up and not allowed freedom and instead abused, harassed and shunned simply because she’s a woman…
In the same token, imagine if you had a daughter and she was made to feel safe, encouraged to speak and contribute, paid fairly, and treated as well as everyone around you. In my case, I know that when Kamala is treated with respect, equality, and care – it helps our business, helps my happiness increase (happy wife, happy life they say) and it impacts all of our family.
As a man, you have an obligation to make this a better world – and it starts by simply letting those who have less power than you have a voice, safety, and your attention to making that happen.