Last week, a user complained when I illustrated a workplace gossip story with the image of a woman posing like a cat. (You can see the post here.)
I think the fact that this story associates “office gossip” with an image of a woman — especially in an industry where both men and male gossips outnumber women — is sexist…. This is the kind of image that tells us — wrongly — that the difference is the gender of the speaker.
Well, she’s right. What makes it worse is the fact that the stereotype of “women as gossips” never even occurred to me.
I’m a fairly progressive guy, if I may say so, without much in the way of prejudice. There are other stereotypes — about African-Americans, Hispanics or Asians, for example — that offend me and will never see the light of day on this blog. I’ve certainly been around long enough to have seen the extra mud women have to wade through in the course of their careers. So what happened?
Though we usually think of discrimination as something that’s either overt — public rallies by hate groups — or camouflaged in the name of “tradition” — barring women from, I don’t know, a golf club — our prejudices can be subtle. That our words might offend one group or another is something we rarely consider. But we’d never say those same words if we thought they’d offend a colleague.
Had I considered how the women I work with might have reacted to that image, I wouldn’t have used it. A lot of women work at Dice, many are close colleagues, and several of them I consider mentors. Yet, again, the idea of that image being inappropriate didn’t occur to me.
My point in all this — and the lesson I’ve learned — is that workplace discrimination can be a lot more insidious than we think. If only by making people more aware, things like good diversity training help. Ultimately, though, all the training in the world isn’t going to mean much unless we pay more attention, not just during those sessions, but in our day to day routines.