How my 10 year old taught me about workplace sexism and misogyny.
(This article was first published in parts on LinkedIn March 9, 2018)
Just over five months ago, my 10-year-old son arrived home on the brink of tears, at first not wanting to discuss why he was crying. As a parent, your first instincts are —
what happened and did someone do or say something to you?
As I pressed him, I realized it was best to wait as I had ruled out that there was nothing inappropriate but whatever it was, I needed to get to the bottom of it. Hours later, when he had had a bath and seemed to have forgotten why he was crying, he relayed to me how he was the only one of his friends who had ended up in Group work with just girls. I could not believe my ears. Not to make a scene and demonstrate any level of annoyance and angst about hearing this, I asked jokingly:
“So who ended up doing all the work?”
To which he grinned mischievously and replied, “the girls.”
Then I asked — “Did you get group marks yet?”
To which he said, “We ended up coming first, but the boys made fun of me because I was with all the girls.”
To which I responded, “they were probably jealous.”
Later in the conversation, I was able to convince my son that a diverse group produces best results, and frankly, girls were good at “getting things done,” and he should feel lucky that he was part of the girl group, placing the top of the class in Group work. Moreover, while this conversation tapered off to make allowances for a 10-year-old level of understanding, my gut was moved as I thought: Oh my God, this starts so young and even as adults in the workspace the ills of youthful misguidance still has a ripple effect in my corporate life.
I went to bed that night feeling sad and knowing full well that for the most part, I was surrounded by elongated versions of my 10-year-old son, taking actions that reflected the same sentiment of the ten-year-old mind. Moreover, while my incidents take place in the corporate tech space, and not a grade five classroom, women in my professional orbit have a myriad of such stories, but in each case, the perpetrators were fully grown men