Overcoming Gender Differences: The Golf Outing Invitation
I am a female currently employed in the legal field, at a worldwide firm. I generally consider my co-workers and organization to be relatively progressive and sensitive to unique individual needs. Therefore, it is easy to understand the surprise and disappointment I felt when the members of my team (all of whom just so happen to be male) decided to take a day off to go golfing without the thought of inviting me. To the men out there, you may wonder why this is an issue. From my perspective, this is an example of gender inequality. Discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently because of something that is outside of their control. By that definition, my co-workers, who I also consider to be my friends, were discriminating against me.
With this unanticipated realization, I understood my anger in not having been invited. In truth, had they asked me to come, I cannot say definitively what my answer would have been. However, they should have included me. A problem exists when one member of the team is excluded from activities outside of work, during work hours, that others are asked to take part it. The assumption that I would either not be interested in attending such an event or that the event itself would be less fun if a "girl" was there, infuriated me. The truth is, this kind of inequality is alive and well in the workplace, and unfortunately, it is something that women have to deal with and men often do not understand. As a woman in the workplace, I chose to deal with this situation by expressing my disappointment in the team for not including me and explaining why and when this becomes an issue. Primarily, in this instance, it was an issue because it took place during work hours. Therefore, I was left to cover for all of the others who were enjoying an activity, which I felt I was excluded from for unfair reasons.
While it is often difficult to express your disapproval with your co-workers and friends at their behavior, most will respect you for your choices. I chose to address the situation in a social setting, rather than in the office environment. While careful not to use the word "sexism", I spoke with my co-workers about their plans and why I would not have been included. The only explanation I received was that they did not know, but they were asked by the manager who arranged the outing. My disappointment grew in knowing that someone with even more experience than my peers did not have to forethought to understand why his behavior could be perceived as sexist. This was particularly disconcerting because the individual who arranged the outing has always been keen to avoid any conversation that would imply any sort of sexual harassment and is always explicit in his verbal intent. So how could someone who is so aware of one aspect of gender inequality be so oblivious to another?
Though I cannot say for certain, I think the answer is that it simply did not occur to him that I would be interested. Some additional background may be necessary to understand the relationship I have with this individual. I was the last member of our current team to join and therefore, have been working with the group for the shortest amount of time. I have had the most limited exposure in dealing with him due to the variety of projects I current contribute to. I have never felt that our manager extended the same hospitality to me as to the other members of the team, in spite of the fact that certain others are less receptive to his approach. They are, however, as I previously noted, all male. While this might not be the actual reason for the differences in our contact and my exclusion, it felt that way to me. I realized that I had to explain that this was the true issue at hand. Whether the intent was to exclude due to gender or not, I felt alienated.
I took the time to sit down and speak to the two team members with whom I felt most comfortable. I explained to each of them that while they might not understand the role that gender has played in shaping my professional life, it does affect how I react to decisions made at work. The circumstance of being a female in what is still a male-dominated environment affects my feelings on a number of issues, varying from what projects I am offered, to what outside of work activities I am asked to participate in. Not only did I get the sense that my co-workers left with an understanding of how men and women function differently in the workplace, but I later received an email from our manager inviting me to a future activity, and apologizing for not having invited me to the golf outing.
While there are several ways I could have dealt with this particular situation, I feel it is important that I dealt with it at all. Complacency in my feelings about this matter would have led me to resent my team, and I had already begun to feel that I no longer wanted to work with them. Had I said nothing, I might not have stayed with a job, which otherwise, I enjoy. Instead, I chose to have an open conversation about my need to feel that I am a part of the team. Both of the team members with whom I spoke were receptive to my feelings of being left out. I know now that it was not their intent to be malicious, but rather that the implication the situation left me with, simply did not occur to them. I think it is safe to say that in the future, it will.