With the surge in feminism that has hit societies across the world in the recent years, a lot of people struggle with understanding how they are complicit in the patriarchal system. There's a lot of desire to change, but without reflection on what has brought us here, meaningful change can't happen. So this week, I'm reflecting on womxn in the workforce and the questions not to ask.
Centuries of a male-dominated public space have made it difficult for womxn to take roles where they did not have access.
The traditional place for womxn in the past century was in the home. She managed the household, the social calendar of the family, the education of the children, the preparation of food, all the shopping, maintenance, pet care, etc. or as many like to reduce it down to "cleaning and taking care of the children." Devaluing womxn's work, what a surprise.
The Second-wave feminism from the 60s to 80s saw womxn leave the home and work for a living. But girl, was there a lot of resistance... I watched a video in a Feminist exhibition at the Belvue Museum, where womxn were turned away from the unemployment office. For no reason other than their gender. A few men were interviewed on the streets, where they questioned these womxn.
One even said, who would look after my children if my wife is at work? Me? No, I like my career too much. Ok, so then you get it!
We all want a world that gives equal opportunity. Womxn were allowed to work, but the barriers to entry were still high. Reminder: Belgian womxn couldn't vote until halfway through last century.
But what does this have to do with today and why are you bring this up, ranting feminist?
Glad you asked! Feminism is not a bunch of angry womxn. I mean, not just a bunch of angry womxn. Because trust me, we're still mad.
Feminism exists because sexism exists. It shows up in insidious ways. Womxn entering the workforce in ever greater numbers = greater numbers of sexist encounters.
The questions people ask businesswomxn are all related to where and how womxn are seen in society, so innocent-seeming questions often pull from out-dated views on how womxn can (or can't) interact in the public space. It's past time to reconsider these practices.
10 Questions Businesswomxn Are Over
This list addresses casual sexism (meaning well-intentioned questions but poorly posed) and questions entrepreneurial womxn receive way more than their male counterparts.
Especially, when it comes to the running and financing of their businesses.
1. What does your husband think of you working (so much/late)?
Checking in on my relationship seems really out of place here.
All entrepreneurs face long hours and difficult schedules to manage. Regardless of gender. Their partner's opinion of their work schedule is and should be irrelevant to reporters and financiers.
This calls womxn to a place in time where they needed (for some: need) their husbands' permission to engage in public life. Newsflash: That's not the Western world's position anymore. My place is where I say it is.
2. Are you planning on having a family? Who takes care of the children?
Business life & private life are not the same thing.
When asking a womxn about her business, please refrain from jumping into her private life.
Womxn were once the primary caretakers. But, the roles are shifting. With more womxn in the workforce, they have less time for childcare. Womxn are individuals who determine childcare dynamics with their partners. Equitable numbers yet? No, but the shift is happening towards a better balance between parents.
3. Don't you think you should wear makeup to the meeting?
No. I think I should act like a professional and let my business speak for itself. I bring this point up because womxn are pressured to wear makeup in order to seem professional. It is simply not the case that makeup makes you a better businessperson.
This is the perfect example of double standards.
4. Don't you think a skirt/dress is more appropriate than pants?
Please stop. My choice of lower body clothing does not make me a more or less adept businessperson.
5. Will you go on a date with me?
I totally understand that connections happen. You meet someone and there's a spark.
It should be understood, however, that a womxn being nice does not mean she's interested.
It means she's nice. It's inappropriate to ask out entrepreneurs in the professional context.
Let business professionals be business professionals, ok?
6. Why did you choose a field dominated by men?
As entrepreneurs, we choose fields we are passionate about.
It's pretty safe to say that most fields are dominated by men, therefore most womxn are not choosing a field dominated by men, they're just choosing a field!
So, is the question why did I choose this field or what is it like to be in this field as a womxn?
If you want to talk about sexism, ask a question about it.
7. Did you start this business all by yourself?
Yes, and I even put my shoes on by myself today. What even is this question!? Are you meaning to imply that womxn can't run a project without someone else's help? While this may seem innocent, it's got real problematic undertones. Check out more here.
8. "How are you going to defend your market share? How are you going to retain customers?"
I took these last few questions from a Fast Company article discussing questions womxn receive from investors that men to do not.
What's troublesome here is that womxn are routinely asked questions in the negative.
The mxn's version of these questions: How are you going to gain market shares? And customers? This tells a lot about the questioners internal bias, implying womxn are more likely to fail. Wake up! Learn to see past it and do your job!
Tip for womxn entrepreneurs: Flip the question! Eg. I look to gain customers by...
9. "Who would use this?"
Well, considering womxn make up roughly 3.9 billion people, maybe... them?.
This question comes up when the product/service relates nearly exclusively to womxn. I understand mxn and womxn have different needs and cultures, but if you're an investor and you can't put yourself in the shoes of potential customers, what are you doing??
A person does not to be a womxn to understand items or services made for them. Let's be honest, financiers sit through descriptions of new technology that are way above their tech understandings. It's not an excuse that the product isn't made for you. Open your eyes to 50% of the population.
10. Do you really think you have the right temperament to lead a company?
Well yes, actually, I do. The business world has been nearly exclusively filled by men in the past few centuries. This means that they defined what it means to act like a business professional and what it means to be a boss. The cutthroat rivalries, the aggression and the boasting. Many womxn act this way, but many womxn do not. Womxn coming into the working world are bringing more empathy and softer tones. That doesn't mean she can't lead a team and run a business.
It's about changing business culture for the better.
I really hope some of you can share your stories with us. What questions have people asked you that felt out of place or not appropriate? When we share, we put spotlights on problematic behavior and develop tools to overcome these situations.
Interested in finding more entrepreneurial womxn and being part of a community that provides for one another? Join the WOMADE life.