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Anyone else uncomfortable with the tone of the gender debate?

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

Since Trump’s ‘colourful’ locker-room comments came into the public eye I’ve heard plenty of opinions that women would never say something as disrespectful as that about men, that we just don’t operate in that way.

Is that really true?

Or are we just not aware of it?

A recent experience made me reflect that women aren’t always practicing what we preach when it comes to our quest for mutual respect in the workplace.

I was hosting a dinner for female leaders recently where we were debating a not uncommon scenario…

Woman delivers work, two senior men grapple for credit for the outcomes. What should the woman do to ‘manage’ these two large male egos?

The answers? Very interesting, very current and some wonderful ideas and wisdom came from round the table. But…whilst we weren’t quiteon the level of Trump Locker-room etiquette, I’m not sure we did ourselves any favours either in the direction the conversation headed… ahem…

‘Down with willy-waggling!’
‘Enough of Pale, Male and Stale!

Some of us enthusiastically proclaimed. Balls were mentioned. Complaints were made. Male Egos were labelled and ticked-off from afar with our ‘here’s what I’d tell ‘em’ suggestions.

Whilst the spirit of the evening was in good humour, in good taste (generally speaking) and in the genuine benefit to learn and grow, I was stopped in my tracks by one very sensible voice that countered:

‘Look, this is making me uncomfortable. I don’t operate in a male environment and I haven’t experienced anything that I’d describe as discrimination in the workplace, but the tone of this is really negative. I’m not really turned on by complaining, I want to focus on things that we can change for the better.’

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard such an opinion voiced and I must agree with her. It immediately made me rethink how I’d spoken and to ask myself if I’d been true to my values.

How I was rolling in the moment:
  • It felt good to revel in the ‘down with the Privileged White Bloke’ sentiment that we see so much in today’s media and social media.
  • It felt empowering and thrilling to criticise these men I had never met.
  • My solution to the scenario: ‘forget the two men, why aren’t YOU taking the credit girlfriend?’ was surely the only sensible solution.

As I reflect, I realise this was a bit like one of those pack mentality moments when everyone jumps on the bandwagon and says things they haven’t deeply thought through. Other people’s phrases and other people’s ideas that we don’t really believe if we look carefully.

How I wish I’d behaved:

Next time I have a conversation like this, I’d like to do it with considerably more care.

I’d like to ask myself:

  • How would our conversation sound transcribed and unpicked by the world’s media (after all, it could happen)?
  • How would the men involved feel if they listened into our conversation?
  • What message does this give to the ‘Pale Male and Stale’ gents who are huge champions of women?
  • How can I contribute to a world when my little boy feels proud to be a man, not ashamed?

Isn’t there a more positive tone we can set for gender debates?

Speaking to many women (and men) about the gender debate, I believe it’s time for a moderate middle ground, where, rather than drawing battle lines, men and women work in partnership.

Those female leaders who most inspire me are the ‘take responsibility’ types who see that they’re in charge of their own life. We’d rather take a look at the hand we’re dealt and play from there, than complain about our crappy cards. If we’ve experienced poor behaviour from colleagues (men and women), it’s not our style to focus on it too much.

We aren’t interested in Man Bashing. We’re not interested in pulling someone else down to get ‘equality’, but in encouraging everyone up to their potential.

Whether someone is privileged or otherwise, white or otherwise, a bloke or otherwise, we’re interested in working in partnership to make our world a better place.

It’s this spirit that I think is lacking in much of the tone towards the gender debatefrom the media right now. Agree?

That’s not to say we should get all tense and lose humour – I think we’ve lost far too much of that already – but that we should check our intention before we speak and:

  1. Seek to improve things, not moan;
  2. When we have to criticise, do it from a place of love, admiration and gratitude;
  3. Strive to only proclaim thingspublically about a person that we would say whilst having dinner with them.
  4. Try something, screw up, apologise, learn and do better next time.

So… do you resonate? If so, what shall we do about it?

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

The UK’s leading inspiring speaking expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).

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