The workplace from Mars

We would like to think that in the teen years of the 21st century our society is an egalitarian one and that people are not discriminated against based on their sex. While we may have come some distance from debates a century or so ago as to whether women should be allowed to vote, there is still plenty of evidence of inequality around the place. You only have to glance, and in all honesty a glance is more than aesthetically required, at the current federal cabinet in Australia to see that we aren’t quite yet at a status of 50-50 in power positions. While we might consciously embrace equality there appear to be some deeply embedded algorithms that shape society and the workplace in a masculine way and a new study has found a graphic illustration of exactly that.

The study was only small and quite selective in that it interviewed women who had quit their job either while pregnant or after returning to work but before their child reached school age. The women were all in professional or managerial jobs. So you have a skewed grouping to start but nevertheless the findings raise some interesting points about workplace culture.

The essence of the findings was that unless women who have become mothers mimic successful men they find it very difficult to succeed in the workplace. The suggestion is that the workplace is still dominated by a masculine culture which works against people placing priority on child raising.

The women in the study indicated that there was an expectation that they would start early and work late even if they had negotiated reduced working hours in order to care for their children. They also indicated that there was an expectation to socialise with colleagues or clients in the evenings even if that meant clashes with childcare arrangements. The women indicated that there was a need to hide the fact that they were parents. One woman working in law indicated that male partners in her firm did not mention their children and she felt pressured to do likewise. It was even indicated that it was taboo to mention that you might take time off to look after a sick child. All of the women suggested that a major problem was the cult of “presenteeism” – the need to spend long hours in the office.

Most of us have seen the “magic chair” theory of the workplace in operation; where long hours spent sitting in your office transcend any actual ability to do your work. It seems sad to consider that this culture of denial of family and subservience to the organisation is a “masculine” one yet given that it has arisen out of what has been a heavily male workplace for the last centuries then the “masculine” must be prepared to wear the blame.

There are odious exceptions, but for the most part though you would like to think that current men are not actively pushing this culture. Some men are, but so are some women. One female banker in the study who had left her job did so after noting “barbed comments” from a fellow female worker when she left every day at 6pm. So the “masculine” culture of the workplace is not only being perpetuated by men.

It is worth noting that it is not only the women who are being discriminated against but their children too. Many men these days are also more involved in child raising so it is both sexes and children who are impacted by a Neolithic magic-chair theory of the workplace. Not all workplaces are guilty of this but some professions are worse than others. We are all in this evolutionary process of social and personal growth together but sometimes we just need to remind ourselves and each other of the things that are really valuable… And you know what, the ability to sit in a chair for 13 hours a day and then go drinking with colleagues while someone else raises your children is not “valuable”.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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