As Twitter and trolls continue to hit the headlines this week it raises a question of acceptability…
The women receiving those Tweeted threats must have had one hell of a week. I’m not sure I’d have the sangfroid to stand firm in the face of such overtly personal confrontation. It’s totally unacceptable. Yet years of working in big business have thrown up interesting instances of people’s ‘pain thresholds’ when it comes to remarks in the workplace.
Working with an organisation recently I was complimented on my dress. The chap’s colleague was outraged and spluttered apologies on his behalf. Having worked in the construction industry for 15+ years, I’m more used to comments about my anatomy than my outfit and was mildly bemused at her upset.
It reminded me of working in a global civil engineering company in the 1990s. They weren’t used to having women around in managerial positions. Within days of starting I discovered it was impossible to open a door for myself. On explaining to one colleague that it really wasn’t necessary to sprint 10 metres down the corridor to perform this gentlemanly act 20 times a day, I realised I’d overstepped the line. His line. The word on the street quickly spread that I was a raging feminist. So chivalry wasn’t dead then… but only when it came to opening doors!
This lack of understanding of another person’s point of view was highlighted in another story I heard of one woman’s comment to another in an office about her outfit being pretty and chaste. It got her into deep water. Unfortunate for her that it was taken as a slur rather than the slightly misguided compliment that was perhaps intended.
More recently I witnessed a board member, new in post and the only female in the board meeting, being asked by her boss to write on the flip chart because she had nice writing. Cringing, I waited for the clever retort. What did she do? Wrote on the flip chart in nice writing… but with a face that could have soured milk. I would have definitely and resolutely handed the baton (or pen) to someone with equally nice writing and passed (or failed) the test that may have just been set!
That said, all of the organisations I work with are very aware of where their responsibilities lie in making the workplace a comfortable environment for all of their people. But even so, we’re human and therefore some of this stuff is subjective. Tell someone you like their dress and it’s a lottery whether you get a sincere ‘thank you’ or a death stare. Just to lay my cards on the table… male or female, if you tell me you like my dress I’ll say ‘thank you’, reaction to comments on anatomy vary according to whether they refer to bits above or below the neck and if you should choose to use your more senior position to belittle me in front of my colleagues? Well we all have our own line that can be crossed.