October 23, 2019
“To keep fighting this good fight and paying it forward to generations of children to come, educators of color need and deserve a space to unwind safely and reinvigorate before the week ahead.” — Ashley Davis, on the importance of The Teachers’ Lounge in Boston.
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As billionaire Ken Fisher’s lewd comments at a recent industry conference take center stage, Wall Street women are speaking up. Sexist and misogynistic behavior continues to run rampant at conferences, despite the financial industry's efforts to stamp out such behavior in the office. Out of HR’s sight, male conference attendees tend to drink and “cross boundaries.” Women report having to network with men “who respond with elevator eyes, comment on their appearance, or reach out mid-conversation” to touch them. Consultant Sonya Dreizler says, “People joke about putting roofies in my drink—different people, different events, it’s a theme.”
It’s disappointing to hear that sexism and objectification are seen as typical of conference culture. And it’s even more disappointing to hear that this behavior goes unchecked. As Charles Roame says, such behavior “will discourage women from participating in the wealth & investment management industry”—an industry in which they’re already a minority.
Most of the women interviewed say they don’t report incidents because of the risk of “creating enemies” instead of connections. In your industry, is there a course of action for incidents that take place away from the office? How can you foster a culture in which women and marginalized people aren’t penalized for speaking up?
One woman, who goes by “Your Fat Friend” on her blog, describes what it’s like to fly on planes as a fat person. First, she has to research airline policies, since airlines often charge double or day-of-flight prices for “passengers of size.” Sometimes they can even deny her a seat during boarding. She usually ends up purchasing a first class ticket because the seats are wider and she doesn’t have to negotiate with the airline.
And that’s before she even boards the plane.
Once she’s in her seat, she has to deal with the sighs and groans of judgmental passengers. In order to avoid attention of any kind, she always checks a bag and never accepts refreshments. She also crosses her legs and arms to make herself as small as possible, so that the person next to her won’t complain. She writes, “Rather than being a compatriot, stuck in the same frustrating, uncomfortable situation, I become a scapegoat for all that frustration. I become the other.”
The blogger writes, “I am watched—and judged harshly—as I try—and fail—to fit into a space that was made for someone else.” We’re reminded of how many tangible spaces and intangible policies are designed with only the majority in mind, leaving everyone else to their own devices. What’s upsetting is that often means finding creative ways to make oneself invisible.
On an organizational level, consider how you can make your spaces and policies more inclusive of all body sizes. For example, airlines could easily change their policies to make the flying experience less demoralizing and financially unfair.
Mattel is partnering with National Geographic to develop a series of Barbies who will have careers in fields like nature photography, astrophysics, and entomology. But over a decade ago, it was Nalini Nadkarni, a tree canopy researcher, who pitched to Mattel the idea of TreeTop Barbie. When Mattel said they had no interest, Nadkarni decided to make her own and sell them at conferences and lectures.
Then Mattel accused her of brand infringement.
She responded, “I know a number of journalists who would be really interested in knowing that Mattel is trying to shut down a small, brown woman who's trying to inspire young girls to go into science.” The company allowed her to proceed, and today, she is an advisor for the partnership.
Manufacturers need to make products that reflect diversity and respond to the needs and preferences of more than just the mainstream. We also need to make science fields more diverse and inclusive, so that the women inspired when they were little feel welcome when they start their careers.
How can you inspire young people in your life to pursue fields that would traditionally exclude them? If you work in one of those fields, what can you do to make the workplace environment more inclusive?