‘But what if Aisha says she’s heard worse before – she not offended!’ That was the question asked during one of our recent Culture Club Workshops for MBA’s at a major UK University. The theme of the day was our game: ‘Can’t You Take a Joke: Calling out Bad Behaviour’. The question reminded me of how frequently people who make offensive comments think it’s perfectly fine if their victim doesn’t complain or even ‘goes along’ with it. If that happens, you know it’s still offensive by two clear hints.
First, if you have to throw another person under the bus to prove your innocence. For example, if you’ve made an Islamophobic joke, don’t excuse yourself to Tariq, a Muslim on your team by saying ‘But Aisha didn’t take offence!!”. You may be lucky enough that Aisha actually defends you, but this now puts her at odds with Tariq. Thanks for that! Secondly, you’re not off the hook even if Tariq says it’s okay.
The truth is Tariq likely has other interests to protect; his relationship to the boss who made the joke, his reputation on the team as an ‘easy going’ guy, even potentially his job itself. What price is a little objectification when pitted against the withdrawal of a colleague’s support? The truth is Tariq’s career progression is like everyone else’s; it’s a war, one that is long and hard-fought. He likely decided your ‘joke’ is not a battle that’s worth fighting. Just be mindful as these battles injure the team…and your reputation as a leader, all the same.
I recently ran one of our Culture Club Workshops on Park Avenue in Manhattan for a major financial services client, but the day before I made a small detour. I was keen to see the acclaimed ‘Fearless Girl’. Interestingly, while the majority of tourists were there to see ‘Charging Bull’, against which she is juxtaposed, a small but consistent group of female fans were there to have their picture with this pint-sized heroine. She was great to see, but reminded me of how her presence is not a clear-cut nod to ‘girl-power’. Christine Emba’s piece, which first appeared in the Washington Post ‘Girl vs Bull is a False FaceOff‘ is a great explanation as to how politically charged the piece is.
First, the sculptor of Charging Bull is suing to have Fearless Girl removed because it gives new threatening meaning to his own sculpture. Indeed he’s claimed State Street now owe him as this form of ‘advertising’ for them only works because the girl is in opposition to his original statue, giving them commercial gain – something he never intended. To this request for her removal, the NYC Mayor Di Blasio, tweeted ‘Men don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need Fearless Girl’. However, the real rub about Fearless Girl is that the statue may do more to market a new SHE index fund, which contains companies that have a better than average proportion of female leadership than actual progress on gender balance. State Street Global Advisors, who commissioned the piece, still only has 3 women on its 11 person board. And worked well it has, it’s been estimated State Street has benefitted from $7.4M of free publicity.
Furthermore, the fact the statue’s a girl, rather than a grown woman, is also potentially less threatening. At InclusIQ, we see many clients who initially think the answer to their own diversity issues is about working with school age girls and ethnic minorities. ‘There’s not enough talent in the pipeline’ is their battle cry. Whilst that may be true, it is also a convenient excuse for lack of action with grown women and men in their own organisations. This excuse falsely reassures them they don’t have to act now as long as the next generation is suitably inspired. Indeed the artist, Kristen Visbal took pains to make the statue look as non-threatening as possible, saying “I made sure to keep her features soft; she’s not defiant, she’s brave, proud and strong, not belligerent”. However, as I looked at the statue it made me wonder: Did we miss an opportunity for a wider debate?
As Christine Emba explains:
‘… the Fearless Girl vision of female power is more than a little demeaning. Were there no adult women around to model leadership?….the Fearless Girl statue portrays the empowered woman as a child, reinforcing the idea of femaleness as cute and inoffensive – a child with potential, maybe, but not all the way there. Maybe that’s why passersby have found it so easy to disrespect the piece: Whether it’s the Wall Street bro photographed humping the statue just a few nights after if appeared or the patriotic wags who draped it in ‘Make America Great Again’ gear, a harmless little girl is still all too easy to disregard.’
As popular as ‘Fearless Girl’ has been, we think a real conversation would have been started if they had put a fully grown woman opposing ‘Charging Bull’.
About InclusIQ Ltd
InclusIQ Ltd makes diversity an integral part of everyday leadership. We believe aiming for a perfect balance of diverse skills and perspectives creates more engaged and enjoyable teams. We provide inclusive leadership solutions designed to rewire inbuilt biases for a fairer, smarter and more competitive workplace.
Dr. Doyle-Morris talks about why diversity of thought is vital for organisations
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