Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Am Invisible

Recently, I've come to the conclusion that gender bias is alive and well. There are articles about gender bias that tend to focus on the glass ceiling or the prevalance of women in C-suite positions in fortune 500 companies. By those criteria the 2000s were not particularly kind to women. In my observation those are not the only areas where gender bias is strong. Particularly combined with age and obesity, gender bias has become (or stayed) completely normal. If a woman is over 40 and "matronly" she will be invisible -- at least as it relates to professional advancement within a job or an industry.

At first I thought I was just being hyper-sensitive because of my own situation, but since I started observing my complete invisibility at meetings dominated by men, I started talking to other women about it. How recently have they received a commendation or promotion? Were they passed-over for a commendation or promotion? The answers were scary. Many women felt that they had "paid their dues" worked hard and contributed substantially to a work product or position only to be leap-frogged by a younger co-worker (of either sex, but mostly male). One of the women I spoke with said that she asked why she was passed-over as she had created the program and trained the young man who leap-frogged her. The answer was that the young man had greater potential growth within the company. She did the creative development. He had the potential. ...So if you're over forty you're done? That's scary.

In some ways it seems worse when I interact professionally with men of my generation (late boomer/GenX) than when I interact with men of a previous generation. At least the previous generation was aware that they had grown up in a gender-biased world and some of them worked to ameliorate that conditioning. My own generation seems to think the problem is solved and never even consider the issue.

You may think "Oh, she's just spouting off because she can't cut the work and move on to the next level." And you may be right. However, there seems to be an inordinate amount of over-40 women who wash out of the promotion chain. (Once again from my personal observation in the communities with which I interact in Madison, WI). And it is amazing what happens to these same women when they color their hair and drop forty pounds. Suddenly they are more intelligent and capable? At least they are until they gain the weight back or go gray.

I considered long and hard before posting this. I know that I have zero followers and this blog is simply an exercise in blogging rather than an actual effort to communicate with some perceived set of followers. However, it still might be viewed. If someone reads it, what do I hope they get from it?

First, don't assume that someone who has a dowdy appearance is irrelevant or uninteresting. If she has worked in your profession for some time chances are she is quite competent.

Second, consider how you interact with your coworkers. Do you tend to speak to certain ones more than others. Who is excluded and why?

and, if nothing else