At 25 degrees the forecast was cold the day of the Womxn’s March in Denver. I dressed quickly in pink pants and knitted sweater topped with an old Hillary #imwithher shirt inherited from mom. The final touch was a mermaid-inducing purple eyeliner that was seeing it’s debut. A puffy cheetah coat paired with a hot pink ski gator from the 80s completed the look. I ran out the door.
I hopped in my friend’s boyfriend’s Subaru and we headed towards Denver’s civic center. It was refreshing to have our feminist energy matched by a guy. The three of us talked about the importance of taking action after the march. We were buzzing with excitement about the march, but lamented that movements without clearer direction and asks, like Occupy Wall Street, seemed to fade away.
The march alone wasn’t going to be the gamechanger. So how could we bring the momentum and energy from the experience into our everyday lives? How could we organize or elevate the conversation further?
Fast forward 5 hours. I’m winding down from the day, still inspired by the individuals we met in passing at the rally. Still hearing the faint chants normalizing womxn’s sexuality.
My stomach drops as my eyes focus on the first thing that hits my LinkedIn feed.
I see an image of half a dozen women posing in bathing suits. A company I used to work for is boasting about the beautiful women they paid to entertain their clients at a big real estate event in Vegas. The post had garnered a few dozen comments and reactions, all positive and supportive. Men and women. Mostly men.
A partial screenshot of the LinkedIn post referenced above.
I process it for a minute before commenting. I ask myself if my gut reaction—that this is completely inappropriate—is an overreaction. Was it okay because the woman pictured were professional swimmers? No, that didn’t make it okay. A company event focused on ogling women underscores a corporate world that tolerates casual sexualization of women. The performers were doubtlessly talented and by all appearances perfectly comfortable and confident. But did everyone at the company feel the same?
While I’m no longer a part of the business I’m writing about I am still a shareholder. And I remember very clearly what an unpleasant culture feels like. What it can do to you, and how you can normalize it.
I remember waking up in New York City every day for a decade, investing my energy into building a financial nest egg and showing the world what a confident, competent, professional woman could do. But casual sexism seeped in everywhere. I’d get inquiries about when I planned to get married and stop working. Married men asked me out regularly. Then there were the hands, grabbing toward my knees under tables at happy hour, when I had been invited to “network.”
At one point, I tearfully expressed my discomfort to the head of equities trading. He set up a meeting with a woman in a senior role, who he thought could offer me some guidance. Guess what she told me? “Man up.”
In this kind of environment, no picture of half-naked women is totally innocent. It’s all part of the boys' club, and I refuse to “man up” to be a part of it.
I should say something.
“This is unfortunate to see in my news feed hours after attending the womxn’s march. This type of content is not going to help us establish gender equality in the workplace.” I quickly comment before powering down my electronics. I lay in bed wondering how this type of content was still deemed acceptable. How dozens had supported this eyesore hitting my feed.
#Metoo and related news stories are the norm today. Public sexual harassment seems pretty out of style, compared to what we were used to in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. Rewatch Legally Blonde if you want to be reminded of how far we’ve come. Yes, it portrays a lethally intelligent Elle Woods but it also showcases the ‘bend and snap’ and tight skirts as the ideal way to get your man’s attention. By no means do I think we are in a place of workplace equality across genders and races but this post just felt like a setback. Did their marketing team and clients really think this was appropriate?
They pulled the post by morning.
Are we ready for equality? Hell yes. (Says some of the crowd.) But it’s going to take a lot more speaking up and advocating to pave the way for it.
Thankfully some companies are giving a nod to it. But are they really making the investment to change their culture? Are they actually aligned?
Here are a few pro tips:
- See something inappropriate? Speak up. Speak up on behalf of yourself and for others. If you’re just standing by watching and observing you could be doing so much more.
- In evaluating culture take a look at your executive team. Is it diverse? Are they leaders? Are they changing the work culture for the better? What does your company do to support promotions and skill building across all employees?
- Know when to make a change for yourself. Environment matters. Company culture is intangible, but its impact on your day and your life is real. If you realize you’re in an unhealthy environment, and you don’t have the resources and power to make change, it might be time to plan your exit strategy.
Looking for the confidence in your voice or yourself to speak up and make a difference?
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Want tangible advice on ways to navigate your workplace culture, improve it, or in identifying when it’s time to move on? Stay tuned to She’s Independent for more.
Natalie holds a BSE of Industrial Engineering from the University of Michigan. She is passionate about health and female empowerment in addition to rescue pups and enjoying life.
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