Another event, another all or mostly male line up. Some notice, many don’t. Those who do, ask questions. Those who hadn’t noticed often push back. For many there is no problem, no discussion. The organisers invited; no women – none – were free. Order is restored and the response is straightforward, logical.
Maybe gender doesn’t matter:
I just want to hear from the best
Or understanding, placating:
At least you tried
What a shame they were busy
Maybe next year
Everyone’s got an opinion…
Ruffled feathers are quickly smoothed and little changes. Why would it? For most, the way things are has arisen from a form of natural selection (divine order, maybe?): the best are those we hear from already. Why wouldn’t they be? That they have skin tone and genitals in common is incidental.
Or perhaps we don’t see it. The default setting of authority is male. It’s not deliberate (maybe) but it is ingrained. It is in our structures, language and interactions. Unspoken values radiate from the posters advertising such events and the majority of faces seen and voices heard in positions of authority across culture. Those in places of influence may say equality is vital but don’t change what they do. And generally, we don’t challenge because we don’t notice. We talk about women leaders because the assumption otherwise is male, and on some level this is what feels right. Women’s events are separated. A line-up of male speakers is an event for everyone. A line up of female speakers is an event for women.
While pondering the current spin on the gender imbalance merry-go-round I had an apparently unrelated conversation with a woman – intelligent, highly qualified, generally savvy – who has spent her career in a senior position in a highly paid, high stakes, male-dominated industry. She described shifts in culture starting to take place. As the economy fluctuated, the proverbial gloves were coming off. As positions dwindled, men were demanding more than their worth. The ability to be seen and heard a primary indicator of value, over tangible results. Women, already paid less for doing the same roles, were wondering how to proceed as the corporate climate became colder and more aggressive.
She used an interesting phrase – the women had, in general, been ‘good corporate citizens’. They did the right things, the things women are expected to do and from which men are excused. They turned up to support. Filled seats at presentations. Interviewed graduates. Were picked or volunteered for meet and greets and hospitality. Hosted. Obliged. Listened. Stood back. Women with MBAs and PhDs in effect making the teas. Doing women’s work. Ensuring smooth relationships and flow while the men assumed the mantle of power and authority. And of course, money. But now, in an evolving situation of less to go around, those soft skills, the expected female traits of nurture and conciliation – no matter how much your education cost or how far your abilities could take you – were valued even less than before. She watched the ground shift and the status quo give way to bullish entitlement and wondered what next. All-male line ups were looking to be a thing of the future once again.
Christian culture is too polite to play it that way, as a rule. We mostly accept what we’ve inherited and don’t challenge the structure in case we’re accused of bringing disunity. And we’re not starting from an enlightened place; centuries of cultural expectation mean some are still debating whether women are even allowed to say anything educational or inspired when men are present. The established order is not being shaken or even questioned by the majority. The boat has not been rocked except by a few, and those few must be willing to step outside the understanding of a woman’s role. It often requires them to stop being ‘good corporate citizens’ of Christian culture. To not only ask the hard questions but to ask them repeatedly when nothing changes. To initiate change that empowers a shift in the balance of whose voices are heard. To create space, equip and develop. To write about how it could be different. To be a man who stands alongside women and make genuine equality a big and unavoidable issue that affects everyone. To be someone who hears the questions, even when you see no problem, and instead of instinctively shutting down, decides to listen to what is being said.
Thank you to all who do that, and who persist in pursuing equality, and may that need soon be a thing of the past.