A New Way for Women to Support Each Other: Social Media

Women have always found ways to help each other survive racism and sexism in the workplace by meeting informally outside of work for validation and support. This support might be in the form of listening to and understanding stories of mistreatment; sharing tips for how to deal with discrimination, salary negotiation, and work-life balance; or sharing the names of sexual predators to increase a woman’s ability to protect herself at work. Women across the decades and occupations have always benefited from this type of support in safe spaces such as living rooms and coffee shops. But the rise of the internet has opened important new forms of safe space. Julie Creswell and Tiffany Hsu of the New York Times explain that the internet has become a clearinghouse for complaints. The recent outpouring of sexual harassment complaints against high- profile individuals has heightened awareness of sexual harassment and opened a floodgate of untold stories as women discover that they are not alone in their experiences of inappropriate behavior. Long unvoiced or ignored, pent-up complaints of inappropriate behavior are pouring out into public and private online forums. It still remains unsafe for most individuals to lodge formal complaints with human resources (HR) departments whose primary interest is protecting powerful people and the legal interests of organizations. Individuals are still at risk of retaliation or of being ignored, but the large number of women (and men) coming forward makes it safer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) notes that outrageous and unchecked behavior has been going on for so long that fewer than two in ten female harassment victims ever file a complaint for fear of retribution. Creswell and Hsu note that current public forums and invitation-only online support groups include the following:

  • Tech Ladies, an invitation-only Facebook group
  • #HelpASisterOut, a forum for advice on how to file a complaint or learn about a company’s culture
  • Blind, an app for anonymous chats about the workplace
  • BetterBrave, an online guide to resources for sexual harassment victims
  • SheWorx, an advocacy group for online entrepreneurs
Creswell and Hsu explain that social media platforms yield results for sexual harassment victims who are ignored by their HR departments. For example:
  • When Susan Fowler of Uber published her blog with accusations about sexual harassment by her supervisor that had been ignored by HR, she got action, including the firing of the company founder.
  • Two women at YouTube reported Andy Signore for sexual harassment to HR and nothing happened. When they went public on social media, he was swiftly terminated.
There is a downside, of course, to anonymous online allegations, which can spread quickly and damage reputations with no chance for the accused to defend themselves. We do need just and fair processes—for everyone. Women haven’t had them. We are now in a period of realignment where the pressure may be back on for organizations to take women’s complaints seriously and to put effective policies and procedures in place that protect women and work for everyone. We had good practices in place in the 1990s after Anita Hill brought the issue of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas out into the light of day, but then they were replaced by corporate lawyers with arbitration clauses in employment contracts and nondisclosure agreements that do not protect victims of harassment. It’s time to get back to protecting women and men from harassment.   Photo by Donna Cleveland, CC BY 2.0.]]>

Women in a Man’s World

New York Times in April 2013, entitled “Women in a Man’s World,” female executives on Wall Street were interviewed and asked why so few women had made it to the senior ranks. In interview after interview, the female executives blamed themselves for not trying to change the status quo. One of the executives, Irene Dorner, the chief executive of HSBC USA, explained that throughout her career she had “kept her head down, focusing on her own career.” She acknowledged that she and the other female executives in the financial industry had not been very good role models and had not spoken out or complained about misogynistic comments and discriminatory practices. The executive women interviewed for the New York Times article were usually the only women at their levels in their companies. Having limited spaces at the top means that the few women who are there can’t change things alone, so the status quo can continue undisturbed. The junior women in a company may believe a senior woman is choosing not to do anything to help other women when the truth is that the senior woman may feel that her hands are tied. The pressure for lone women who make it to the top to keep their focus on proving themselves to the men, while not being perceived as threatening, is intense. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>

There Are Limited Spaces at the Top

You see the successful women as your competition. You don’t really see the whole pie or all the people out there as your competition. I think it’s easier to compete one on one with a woman than with a man. Scholars have described the mind-set reflected by Cherry and Laurie as “a dearth mentality,” or the feeling that there is not enough to go around. This mind-set could explain why we can sometimes feel that other women are our competition. Marissa, a white government supervisor in her fifties, explained:

Very sadly, I see it a lot in the upper levels of government that women try to do each other in. Women, when they are promoted, will tend to be appointed at the lower end of the salary scale for their position, while the men almost always come in at the top of the scale. Women will try to do each other in at that upper level if another woman starts at a higher salary than they did. You certainly don’t want some other woman doing better than you.
  An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>

Women Are Discouraged from Supporting Other Women

You’re playing a game with men because there are no women at the top—so you can’t get too buddy-buddy with women because that takes away from your ability to climb the corporate ladder. She went on to explain that because there are few women at the top, men need to see you as a team player. In other words, they need to feel comfortable that you are going to be able to fit in as “one of the boys” and will not threaten the established order. Shantel, another research participant, explained why she does not participate in women’s support activities at her company:

I work in a very male-dominated profession, and my goal is to learn to operate within that environment. I have trouble being interested in “the women’s this” and “the women’s that” because my life is focused on how can I get recognized and rewarded by the guys.
An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>