I’m currently working as the administrative assistant at a real estate investment company. Our CEO’s daughter is the head of a hospitality group, and she needed a space for her team to have a team building and brainstorming day, so she used our (stunning) boardroom yesterday. It just so happened that her team is all women. As a man who works for the other company that shares our floor was leaving, he passed by my reception desk and, gesturing to the boardroom, asked me, “How come it’s all women in there? Is it like a women only career day at [my company] or something?”
At this, I was seriously and completely caught off guard. I found this comment to be quite patronizing. If the boardroom would have been filled with all men, no woman in sight, he would have never thought that it was a “career day for only men.” Afterall, men don’t need “career days” to get ahead. What the heck is a career day, even? Maybe this is just me being an “overly sensitive internet feminist” but I truly found that comment both condescending and shocking.
I was stunned, and though I wanted to say something to retort, after a couple seconds all I could muster was, “No. It’s just a business group.” He responded, “And they just all happen to be women?”
Why was he so shocked and disbelieving that there could be a group of women who are doing business? Don’t they need at least one man present to keep them in line? To make sure they get things done and don’t just sit there gossiping all day?
Now, I now that’s not what he meant or was trying to imply. But he truly was surprised that there was a group of business people who all happened to be women. It was curious to him. Strange, even.
Again, I totally failed at coming up with a good comeback on the spot. Immediately after I realized that I should have said, “Would you even be asking me that if they were men?” Alas, we can’t all be quick wits. All I managed to sputter in response to his last question was “Yes. Women do things, too.”
He laughed and said, “I didn’t mean anything, I was just wondering why they were all women.”
Again, why were you even wondering? Would the thought have crossed your mind if they were men? No. It wouldn’t have.
I can’t completely blame this man. It’s true that in general, you don’t see very many boardrooms that are completely filled with women, or even where women are the majority. I, personally, can attest to this, as I have a prime view of the boardroom in my own office and the meetings that take place there. Most of the meetings that are internal to my company actually have quite a few women present, as our office is split about 50/50 among men and women. However, the other company that shares our floor also utilizes our boardroom, too, and their meetings are are always male dominated.
I do think that it’s somewhat of a vicious cycle, though. Because we aren’t used to see boardrooms filled with women, because we aren’t used to seeing women in positions of power, we create this idea in our head that women just don’t usually do that kind of thing. And because we think that women don’t usually do that kind of thing, less women actually go out and do it, and those that do are viewed as being outside the norm. So the cycle continues, and stereotypes strengthen, and we wonder why men say things like, “Is this a career day just for women?” upon seeing a boardroom full of women.
However, we can’t completely blame society. At a certain point, we have to take personal responsibility for our own prejudices and irrational ways of thinking. Lord knows we all have prejudices, but rather than ignore them or pretend that we don’t have prejudices, we need to acknowledge them. We need to catch ourselves when we are thinking in stereotypes and examine why we are thinking that way. We need to challenge our own assumptions and preconceived notions about people and the world. That’s the only way we will be able to change it.
Even though I didn’t manage to say anything truly thought-provoking to the man asking me these inane questions about the mysterious group of women in the boardroom, I hope that I at least caused him to consider his own assumptions and biases in some small way. Perhaps he will realize on his own why his question was ridiculous in my eyes. That’s all I can hope for.
*P.S. I searched Google Images for “women in a boardroom” for a picture for this blog. I couldn’t find any pictures where there were ONLY women in the boardroom. It was always mixed company. Of course, when I searched for “men in a boardroom,” all the images were of boardrooms filled with ONLY men. Just another piece of food for thought.