On the more subtle forms of discrimination | Guest editorial

  • Monday, December 11, 2017 8:30am
  • Opinion

By Kathy Lambert

King County Council

Many people are speaking out about inappropriate physical contact and remarks in the workplace. They are to be commended for their courage. It is also time to speak about more subtle forms of discrimination faced in the workplace too.

Here are several examples of more “subtle or not so subtle” situations.

A woman shares an idea and then a few minutes later a man in the room has the same or a very similar idea and his is brilliant.

Another example is in introductions. For instance, this is Mr. Jones, our regional manager, area 1 and this is Amy. Mr. Jones has his title presented but there is no mention that Amy is Amy Smith and is regional manager of area 2.

Mr. Thompson says off the top of his head that he thinks we should buy product A. Ms. Anderson says she thinks we should buy product B and presents current data to back up her idea. But the decision is unexplainably to buy A and study B. In many cases, with time permitting, both products should be studied.

At Super Bowl time there was a group conversation about the game. All of the people in the room had seen the game. But each time a woman said anything about a play, it was ignored. This exclusion or not being invited to a golf game or other activity reduces opportunities for networking.

Sometimes people know when they have been out of line and other times people say they did not realize how it was being perceived. For example, I went to a meeting one time appropriately dressed in a business suit for the meeting. But the man I was negotiating with looked at my legs the entire meeting. The meeting needed to be completed the next day. So that day I wore a long skirt to the ground. When I walked in, he laughed and said, “So you noticed that I was looking at your legs yesterday?”

Yes, I noticed and decided that we would get more done if that was not happening in the future. He knew, but had gotten away with this behavior for so long that he felt comfortable to do so. Regardless if a person knows or says they did not know, it is important to say clearly that it is not appropriate and or makes me uncomfortable. Usually there is an apology or the person says they did not realize how that was being perceived. Either way, that clarity should stop that behavior.

When I tell my granddaughters stories of discrimination and experiences years ago, they are aghast. They ask, “How could that happen?”

I remind them many women in traditionally male occupations have paved the way for them. Many of the past treatments today are prohibited by law but others are more subtle and continue. It is time for addressing both types of inappropriate treatment and to have the words and courage to address it as it happens.

As I have talked over these issues and examples with other women, they have their subtle stories and I think it is part of why there are not as many women in upper management. Their ideas and qualifications have been downplayed or dismissed or they have been excluded from networking opportunities. Speaking up on the subtle forms of discrimination helps to make a healthier workplace for us all and appreciate each person’s contributions and talents.

Kathy Lambert is a King County Council member, representing District 3.

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