Health & Fitness

Don’t keep quiet about gender bias in the workplace


What is the role of women in high-level managerial positions? I feel like my boss thinks women just fill up gender spaces and aren’t necessarily in those positions because they measure up. How do I fit in a male-dominated office and stamp my authority? However, I don’t want to be like a man.

The last sentence in your question is rather confusing and in some ways telling of the stereotype you have of gender roles. I am tempted at the very outset to ask what “being like a man” means to you.

There are almost too many ways of dealing with your question. One could, for example, take a very simple and biological look at your question and go on to describe the biological challenges that men and women go through.

In this regard and by way of example, the Royal College of Psychiatrists will, on December 6, be holding a high level symposium under the title ‘‘Me, myself and my hormones: Women and their mental Health’’.

This meeting will bring together experts on women’s mental health and will, significantly be held at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The main focus will be on the influence of hormones and biological factors on women’s mental health.

One of the aims of the meeting will be to “Provide an update on prescribing for women, taking into account biological, psychological and social factors (in the woman and the subscriber!)”

Other topics covered will include women’s mental health around key reproductive times, for example, the menopause.

Remaining with this very narrow way of looking at your question, one could focus on men at the work place and here one could find differences between men and women, which are visible early, and find expression via the different hormones.

Experts describe boys as showing more externalising behaviour than girls. This goes on to adulthood.

In this regard boys and men are generally more aggressive, impulsive and prone to using drugs than girls and women.

Later in life, the differences between men and women persist, for example, in the way they present with depression.

Depressed men are more likely, than their female counterparts to withdraw from relationships — at home, work or church. They also tend to avoid seeking help — often going to drink too much. They are also more likely to become aggressive with outbursts of temper.

Significantly, and relevant to your question, some depressed men get over-involved in their work, spending long periods at the workplace, in part to avoid social contact.

Loss of sexual interest is more common in men than in women, and is a source of great conflict not only at home, but also at the workplace. A sexually frustrated male manager can be a difficult colleague at the workplace.

Other common challenges that come to the office with men are poor concentration, poor sleep and increased use of all manner of drugs.

This first (biological) approach to your question raises many different issues, almost too many for us to discuss here.

The other approach that one could take is a spiritual one. In the Book of Ephesians 5:25, we read: “Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her.”

Further down in the same Book (verse 22) we read: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church.”

Some have taken this literally and have argued — others say wrongly — that the husband is not the head. This is another complex conversation for another day.

Another way of looking at your question is from social anthropology and the way in which society has been structured over time.

The roles played by men and women in society are different. In many cultures, the complimentary roles provide that the male goes out hunting while the female takes charge of the cave (home) and all the nesting and nursing duties.

The roles are different but neither is superior to the other. One could now fast forward to your question on the assumption that you are a 21st Century high level manager in a modern organisation.

Sadly for you, it seems that you are working under the misguided attitude of a Stone Age boss. The debate as to whether men and women can occupy any role in the workplace was settled many years ago.

A few examples will illustrate this point. Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto was the first elected female head of state in a Muslim majority country. She was the Prime Minister twice.

Others in her league are to be found from Indonesia (Megawati Sukarnoputri), Kosovo (Atifete Jahjaga) and Turkey (Tansu Çiller).

Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and now perhaps Hillary Clinton make the point that anything a man can do, women can also do. In the professional circles, the late Prof Wangari Maathai puts to shame people like your boss!

This is one of those few instances where you might help yourself, the boss and the company by raising the matter directly to the board. It is possible that others (men and women) are suffering in silence.