Boots and Beads – bringing some femininity to WHS

Boots and Beads – bringing some femininity to WHS

Guest post by Louisa Chesswas

According to our wonderful friend, Wikipedia, “…gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, caring, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, nurturance, deference, and succorance are behaviors generally considered feminine”.  One might be forgiven for thinking that these are pretty good traits to have.  Except, it would seem, in the business world, and, more specifically, in WHS.

Hegemonic (dominant) masculinity is still considered the norm – for men.  We disparage women who aspire to the same thing.  A colleague recently said to me that she doesn’t like to speak her mind because “men don’t like that sort of thing”.

An article by Patrick Lion in the Sunday Telegraph of October 21, 2012, noted that women Defence personnel will be able to apply for front line postings within a few months, but even they are not without their detractors.

Says Lion, “The concerns include ‘almost certain’ personal privacy problems while working with men, males trying to protect females in war zones and women being considered not ‘credible’ in combat”.

I have to seriously question, in this day and age, why gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, caring, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, nurturance, deference, and succorance are considered weaknesses which may ultimately cause problems in any workplace, let alone Defence.  Perhaps, if those traits were more common in the workplace in particular, and society in general, there would be fewer battles to fight in the first place.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2008, men are three times more likely to die in all kinds of accidents than women. In the United States, men make up 92% of workplace deaths, indicating “either a greater willingness to perform dangerous work, a societal expectation to perform this work, or that women are not hired for this work”.

Is that a relic of a society that still expects hegemonic masculinity to be the norm?

At a Wharton Executive Education program in 2005, women executives were asked for their thoughts on words which would describe female leaders.  They came up with multi-tasking, emotional, empathetic, strong, intuitive, compassionate, relationship building, verbal, consensus building, collaborative and gossipy.  Men, on the other hand, rated as strong, arrogant, intelligent, ego-driven, bravado, powerful, dominant, assertive, single tasking, focused, competitive, stubborn, physical, self-righteous and direct.

According to the program director, Anne Cummings, “a ‘masculine’ style tends toward assertive and task-based behaviors, while a ‘feminine’ style is more relationship oriented and ‘democratic’.”

Whether we agree with Cummings or not, there is still an abyss between masculine and feminine styles in the workplace, particularly in relation to problem solving.  Perhaps, instead of men getting antsy because women are becoming more masculine, men should be making an attempt to partake of the more empathetic feminine traits.  Maybe, as part of Safe Work Week, we should all try a little more compassionate, empathetic, collaborative consensus building.

Sorry, sir – we no longer do HTFU here.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below