“Be a love, make me a cup of tea.”
You could be the most qualified person in the workplace, but you can guarantee that someone will assume that you are the secretary, PA, or receptionist. As a result they will talk down to you, ignore your input, and ask you to do menial tasks like photocopying and making tea. Regardless of your ranking in the room, regardless of the insight you can offer to the discussion, you will always be the little girl in the room.
Being belittled, ignored, or being treated like you are a ‘delicate little flower’ is a pretty common experience for women. They either find themselves biting their tongues in the face of this form of institutionalised sexism, or risk their faces turning blue by having to constantly reinforce their position in boardroom meetings. As a woman in STEM I can often finds myself as the only woman in the room, and particularly as a young woman, this experience is definitely all too familiar for me. I am constantly made to feel like a ‘little girl’ in the workplace. I am not appreciated for my intelligence or the insight I could lend to discussions, because I am automatically assumed to be on the lowest end of the professional ladder, or that I lack professional responsibility.
Not only are women less likely to be in the boardroom and have to battled to get our place at the table, but when we get there we are assumed to be the one taking the meeting minutes, and we are the ones less likely to be listened to.
Research shows that women are less likely to be believed than men, even when we say the exact same statements. Our perceptions of women’s authority is shaped by gender stereotypes. Women are painted as these unstable, emotional and air-headed creatures, and although you may think that you have a positive attitude towards women, we often subconsciously make assumptions about women and their ability to make good decisions – especially in realms like business.
Society would love to believe that it treats people on merit, that if you work hard and achieve well, you will earn your spot in the boardroom. But that is not the case for women. Gender stereotyping still forms a huge barrier for us to be taken seriously, and unconscious bias can stand in the way of our agency.
To draw attention to these attitudes that can often be unconscious, we need to be unafraid to stand up to them. If someone asks you to take the meeting minutes, assign the role to someone else more suitable, and if someone asks you to make them a cup of tea, remind them where the kettle is.