Every job interview process can be divided in two: 1. the conversation taking place if you are interested in the job (or really need it); 2. the conversation taking place if you are NOT interested in the job but just curious (or don’t absolutely need it). When you face a sexist recruiter it is most times a destabilizing and uncomfortable experience. Here some tips in order to find a compromise situation between the desperate job-seeker (alternatively the masochist type) and the kamikaze (who won’t find a job if doesn’t shut up). You can still get the job without playing the game.
When thinking about recruitment processes a woman can easily be scared of being asked about her private life. Every recruiter would like to know whether you are going to be pregnant in the next six months, and many bosses will not secure your job contract for fear that you might some time soon be planning a pregnancy. Hence, avoid to talk about yourself and your personal plans. It is not allowed to ask personal questions and there is usually a way to avoid them. For instance change the topic by asking a question on the position, but never blame the questioner. Be creative, you still want that job, right?
But what can also happen is when recruiters become verbally aggressive. They explain such techniques by defending their need to test the candidate’s strength. In fact, there is no reason for being aggressive. When a recruiter tells you that you look good, for instance, it is not a compliment. The best way to react is to ignore the comment also by avoiding any facial expression of discomfort. If you are brave and you think you can’t be assessed by a sexist asshole, than you can return the compliment: “You however don’t look very good”, or “You look better in real life than on your LinkedIn profile picture too”, or even “You have a nice little bottom, baby”. Although we don’t want to propagate revengeful behavior, the situation might be worth returning the joke. Mind: only do this if you are NOT interested in the job.
In order to shock a female candidate, a male recruiter (sorry, it is a gross gender cliche but we need to be concise here and that’s the gender dynamics in most cases anyways) can also use sexual vocabulary in order to describe work-related situations. For instance, he might say that a negotiation requires a rape (but only a symbolical one!), or might say that selling their product is like having sex with it, or similar bullshit. In case you notice sex-related vocabulary in your interview, and you want to have the job, just keep swallowing. Not showing any surprise will confuse your interlocutor who is attempting to destabilize you through sexual harassment. If you don’t need the job, you might even try to explain him that rape is not a metaphor. Or you might unfold the reasons why your sexual life stays out of your office and why this is healthier. You might propose him to follow a therapy, or a seminar against sexism in the workplace (we have some of them ready!). That will teach him that harassing a candidate will not improve his business, on the contrary it will destroy the candidates’ self-esteem and performance.
But always ask yourself the question: do I want to work in such business culture?
Face à l’exacerbation de la concurrence sur le marché du travail, le CV devient un exercice de style… souvent menteurs, les candidats inventent leurs diplômes et leur parcours professionnel. 26 % des CV en France seraient faussés, et pourtant peu d’entreprises contrôlent les diplômes de leurs candidats. Mais augmenter le contrôle n’est pas vraiment la solution, contrairement à ce qu’écrit Nathalie Brafman dans Le Monde.
Pour moi, cela explique une seule chose : le CV est chose obsolète et les candidats le savent bien. C’est un moyen limité de mesurer un talent. Il faudrait que le RH se mettent du coté des candidats pour comprendre, et non nécessairement contre eux en les considérant comme des menteurs. Il faut lire entre les lignes et essayer de comprendre les enjeux du CV, et les frustrations qu’il génère.
Bien sur, mentir sur son CV, ca ne sait fait pas pour des raisons éthiques évidentes. Mais si le CV n’existait plus ? Les recruteurs en bénéficieraient, car ils seraient obligés de faire des bilans de compétences, au lieu de s’acharner sur tel ou tel diplôme avec des techniques de recrutement proches de la divination. Ils auraient vraiment les bonnes personnes. Au lieu d’investir 100 Euros pour vérifier chaque diplôme, ils pourraient investir dans des logiciels de bilan de compétences. Le logiciel KODEX® développé par John Erpenbeck, par exemple, est un bon exemple de ce qui se fait en Allemagne pour développer son business en se concentrant sur le capital humain et les compétences de chaque employé.
La fin du CV, ca ne veut pas dire la fin de l’éducation. Bien évidemment, maintes compétences s’acquièrent à l’université ou dans les formations, ainsi que les droits d’exercer certains métiers (avocat, architecte, médecin, etc.). Mais il faut regarder le CV de manière critique, et les façons dont les CV sont détournés devraient attirer notre attention : elles en disent beaucoup sur les problèmes du recrutement, surtout dans de moments complexes de crise. Ca veut dire donner la juste valeur à l’être humain, en évaluant des compétences, pour une fois, véritablement. Et essayer de comprendre que peut-être ne pas obéir aux règles signifie que quelque part les règles pourraient changer.
The debate about the uses of diversity is well alive, but many use the word only as a brand. Actually, observers complain that recruitment policies and HR management do not change, in spite of what corporate communication says. The fact that job becomes flexible is, indeed, a way to make people’s lives more precarious. Namely those of women. Globalization is, according to French sociologist and philosopher Marcel Gauchet, a “planetary Far West”, where financial profit dictates the rules of international exchange. And little is left for the human capital, as globally exploited (in different ways) workforce testimonies with its ordinary experience of abuse. Now, besides the polished image of many companies, things *must* change. Diversity certainly means a lot of things, the first of which is – to my understanding – the respect of difference. The vague of diversity means openness. I am a little disappointed today hence I really would like to state once again how diversity education is important to me.
The problem is that many people are not ready for change. They are not ready for a sustainable globalization, although the latter is steadily growing since at least 30 years (some even say a few centuries). We need to become responsible for globalization and not let the chimera of the free market economy determine our lives. We live in a globalized world and we are all affected regardless of how localized our daily life seems to be. Hence business, culture, exchange, must change. New forms of knowledge and business are already on the way, and our lives are changing. That is why education is important. In my opinion, gender education is crucial also because women are importantly involved in migration movements for the sake of work. Women coming from any national, class, racialized, age background are well aware of the globalized dimension of the world, and of the fact that globalization as it is is worsening their lives. We need to become culturally aware, and to teach others and be taught what diversity is. And this not to give a good image to allegedly innovative companies. This is about the survival of the environment. Educating means having and giving the tools to make the best out of global forces, i.e. developing people’s skills. Concerning gender, we need to avoid the backlash conservative political movements in Europe are an example of: the fights against gay marriage in France are good evidence of the extent to which gender diversity is in trouble and must be protected.
This morning, I am reading the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. As usual, I scroll the online version down to the bottom of the page. Today, Il Corriere dedicates the first article to Berlusconi’s attacks to his ex-wife Veronica Lario whom he accuses of being supported by feminist (and communist) judges, i.e. the two species il Cavaliere probably hates the most. On the right column, the regular section “female flesh & motors”. Used to the decades-long TV education of the Berlusconi era, most Italians have by now come to terms with the fact that the female body is vilified in most media and therefore in society. The documentary “Women’s bodies” by Lorella Zanardo has already pointed at the ways in which women are presented in the Italian media: a mainstream that does not reflect the reality of our bodies and values and promotes the erasure of female identities. Lorella Zanardo’s fight against gender stereotypes is remarkable in that she is able to show that TV is not only a talking screen, but an edifying tool. In the Italian case, a noxious one. If Italy can claim a backlash in gender relations, it owes this to the private and very lucrative enterprise of Silvio Berlusconi. This affects thousands of teenagers who dream to appear (undressed) in a TV show.
The Italian press faces a financial crisis, and editors must find new pathways to survive. This does not sound new in a time where information changes abruptly. However, again gender stereotypes are employed to sell copies and promote unreal images of women. Even more sadly, the newspaper misses an opportunity to value female talent and excellence in sports. Today, an entire photo reportage is dedicated to female tennis players. The title of the gallery is “Female tennis players at the top: male biceps“. In the photographs, women are presented in poses of muscular tension where they perform strength and, apparently masculinity. Interesting enough, the reportage just next to it is titled “sexy” and shows a woman flirtating from a swimming pool. That femininity equals being undressed, thin, tall and white (even though a note of exotism is welcome) is not new to Italian readers and commentators. Yet, the newspaper today shows that certain women are actually men, because they have muscles. And we all should know that only men have muscles!
We learn that the female body if it does not correspond to Berlusconi’s canons of beauty becomes male. However, the women pictured here do not look like men either; their muscular effort distorts their faces and bodies and gives them a monstrous semblance. These women are savage, that is why Il Corriere is interested in them today. This view is not only sexist, but also racist because of the image it conveys of black bodies: the fantasies about black strength are representations inheriting from colonialism and slavery. These women are athletes, professionals who deserve to be rewarded not only with medals but also by the public opinion. Instead of publishing these bodies as barbarous because muscular, the press should highlight their talent. Strength is not a male thing, and strong women remain women.
In biology books for children, the lesson on muscles is always represented as male. Muscular bodies are always male. Instead, women are reproductive machines. This is wrong, and we should teach our children that a muscular body is just right, be it male, female or queer. Also, we should not miss opportunities to show that some women have done outstanding things in society. We should claim the right to be women with (or without) muscles. We should educate our bodies against gender stereotypes and promote female talent.
Everybody knows that Ikea has shelved women from its Saudi catalogue, but do you know that the Ikea Foundation is very active in the protection of women’s rights?
Tout le monde sait qu’Ikea a effacé les femmes de sont catalogue saoudien, mais savez-vous que sa fondation finance généreusement un projet pour la défense des droits des femmes?
The case of the catalogue
Last week, there has been a big buzz around the story of the Ikea catalogue 2013 for Saudi Arabia. Women had been effaced from the catalogue in order to fit the local market. Since then, Ikea has apologized publicly and taken full responsibility for the initiative. This is clearly a problem of gender diversity. Unable to solve the conundrum of women in pictures, Ikea has taken the shortcut: by shelving women, they thought they were deleting a problem. The question is deeper though: first, Saudi Arabian market is complex; second, Ikea was clearly not prepared to face diversity seriously. With a better investment of financial resources, things would have probably turned out differently.
Spoke person of Inter Ikea Systems, Ulrika Englesson Sandman, has stated that when entering a new market, the company always tries to find a compromise between its own values, and local values and legislations. The problem is that Ikea surrendered very easily instead of attempting to find a fair place in this market. Ikea is facing a real problem, that of a kingdom operating a strict gender segregation at all levels of society. Women in Saudi Arabia are excluded from the public sphere (and when they can access it they need to be accompanied by a man). They buy clothes from men, hence it looks just logic that they buy their furniture in a male world! However, Ikea has recently funded an international initiative aiming to fight against the oppression of women. Ikea seems to commit to diversity in its communication, but not in its actual practices. If Ikea had invested in diversity experts, the catalogue episode would not have happened. And the company would have saved its public image from this huge media backlash.
Hofuf, the industrial city built for women in Saudi Arabia
Last August, another news coming from Saudi Arabia surprised me. I have the feeling though, that this news was much less attacked by the global media. The Saudi Arabian government is building an industrial site – a real city – targeting female workers exclusively: Hofuf. They plan even more of them in the near future. The Guardian says: “The aim is to allow more women to work and achieve greater financial independence, but to maintain the gender segregation, according to reports.”
I think that the Ikea affair is just the evidence of a real enigma, that of a country unwilling to integrate women in society, but aware of the fact that women are a profitable workforce (only 15% of the Kingdom’s workforce now): they are highly educated, and willing to commit to business. And certainly, they can do business very well. But the monarchy might just want to exploit them while segregating them in Hofuf. The feminization of the global labor market is a matter of fact: “nimble fingers make cheap workers”: flexible, low paid work is a female thing. This shows that the inclusion of women in the market is not enough as a practice of equality. Under which conditions will these women work?
Money for diversity is there, but how is it allocated?
The major problem here, is the nature of Ikea’s commitment to gender diversity vis-à-vis conflicting interests. The Ikea Foundation has recently joined an initiative called Half The Sky Movement that aims to fight against the oppression of women in the developing world.
This project definitely polishes the image of Ikea and its commitment to sustainable development. However, instead of investing 1 million USD in funding this project, Ikea could have hired people providing for expertise in matter of religious, cultural, and gender diversity. Utilizing funds in an efficient way is crucial and should not be taken for granted as a practice. In the worst cases, initiatives are badly organized and the loss of money cannot be underestimated. In the best cases, it is a problem of knowledge management within the company. Ikea franchises a lot, and needs to have experts in diversity instead of dismissing diversity with Photoshop. Diversity communication is a good practice, but it needs to be associated with a real commitment. This will eventually make a better publicity for the company. And will probably even benefit Saudi women who are fed up with segregation as all other women who cannot participate into public society from a standpoint of equality.
For the first time, yesterday I visited a German school: Ernst Reuter Schule in the north of Frankfurt. This public structure hosts an elementary and a secondary school. The premises are pretty amazing: a set of low-rise buildings of the seventies, punctuated by pathways, small parks and sport courts. A bookstore, a theater, rooms with art tools, a music school, a swimming pool… everything for the students. All public (the least I can say is that I was astonished)… Recently, managers adapted the infrastructure to students with disabilities, and opened an office treating of diversity and equality. A poster welcomes visitors at the main entrance: kein Platz für Rassismus, no room for racism.
I met Silke Vaillant a couple of weeks ago, and she proposed me to visit her at the school. She is responsible for the courses of English and Ethics, and this year she is interested in engaging a debate on diversity with her students. Within a week, her class will have an oral exam, and the topic is Canada. Silke explained me that the students come from very different backgrounds, but the majority has a second-generation migrant background. “The reputation of the school is so good, that every year we must decline about two hundreds applications because we don’t have enough places”. Students come from all over the city, and foster the ambition to get into college. For this, they need to achieve high grades. Silke and the whole staff do a lot to give these youth chances and tools to master their future.
The only thing I knew was that a crowd of twenty-five students of about eighteen years old expected us. In a five minutes briefing, Silke explained that she was mainly committed to cultural/ethnic diversity and inclusion, and that she was not sure about the outcomes of a discussion on gender diversity. Still, we thought that a discussion articulating all the dimensions of diversity was a good idea. And I was the most excited because I was going to learn something from them: that the first thing to do, when you are interested in diversity, is to reflect upon yourself as a privileged speaker.
COMMUNICATION AND PRIVILEGE
When we communicate, we address a particular audience. So far so good. Now, addressing an audience of twenty-five male and female teenagers all having different ethnic and class backgrounds, is not the same as talking to a handful of white male adults (which tends to happen in corporate). In other words, the task was not here to promote diversity. It was rather the opposite: I had to reflect upon my whiteness and my privilege in front of a diverse audience that experiences diversity on a daily basis. According to Silke, much of the success of the school is precisely this diversity attracting students from the whole city. It is not a problem, it is a resource. Silke’s work is to make sure that her students get into higher education and always make of their personal experiences a positive resource and not a hindrance.
It’s complex to address diversity when you are part of a mainstream, especially when you don’t have time to break ground with your public. What is needed, in communication, is to avoid authoritarian behavior: know whom you are talking to and speak accordingly. Give enough information about yourself to be categorized socially, but don’t overwhelm your audience with information; use your time rather to gather information about who is in front of you. However, don’t forget that you still need to get a message through. People react better if they make their active way through a debate, and the only way you can do it is by giving some time to think. Give a question, and five minutes to think about it. Silke suggested the TPS (Think-Pair-Share) method: people think by themselves, or in pairs, and then they integrate another pair in order to briefly exchange input. Then, volunteering spokespersons can give a short presentation.
We live in a society where power is unequally distributed. This happens at every scale of our lives, hence be aware of privilege when you speak. This is the first step into diversity. Gender, race, class, sexual orientation… they are all articulated with power and a good communicator needs to know it. It is not a problem if you are not a supporter of identity politics, but use cultural sensitivity when you communicate and your message will have a much higher rate of success. This is different from employing cultural stereotypes uncritically! By culture, I intend a broad field including, for instance, a particular corporate culture, or cultural/ethnic identifications.
10 MINUTES TO TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU CARE THE MOST
This was the hardest task. I mean, I am used to explain what I do in ten minutes, but what to highlight in such a short time? I gave a short introduction on the topic of gender and gender diversity. I used the concept of performance (performativity: next time!) and the students seemed to be pretty happy with that. Next step, I included gender in a discussion about our society, and that was my question: shall I introduce gender diversity as a problem? Shall I work according to a heteronormative frame of analysis? Shall I rather wait and see what they say? A male student told me: “Girls can always access clubs more easily!” True (so he addressed heteronormativity). And that is where I decided that I needed precisely to assess it as a problem, hence I explained: “Club organizers want to fill their clubs with girls, so that men pay for drinks. This says something about income and perceptions of income”. If we don’t understand the world we live in, we cannot understand the hidden resources triggering change.
From then on, the conversation was just amazing. A girl stood up and said: “Well, for me, the gender problem is when a man doesn’t let her daughter out in the evening, but then he goes to strip bars and gets drunk by watching naked girls.” And, surprisingly enough, the conversation turned to gender in the workplace. “Recruiters evaluate competence when they hire a man, whereas they evaluate aesthetics when they hire a woman”, and “women must chose between career and motherhood”, but “men can take care of babies too, and women should have the right to their career after they have had a baby”! The fact that they have heard about these issues is an encouraging thing, although they might not have experienced them (yet).
In her provocative article “Macho cultures are fairer for women”, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox argues that gender blindness works against gender equality. Instead, she contends, cultures that to some extent objectifyfemininity are more open to welcome and appreciate the contribution of women to a company. In gender blind workplaces, instead, only the women who behave like men make it, those who, in other words, renounce to mainstream models of femininity and imitate the maleness of power. I think that Wittenberg-Cox wants to draw attention on forms of blindness that jeopardize the achievements of equality through the silent but ongoing confirmation of the male centers of power.
She also points to the fact that gender inequality is usually approached as a problem, instead of being seen as a resource. However, recognizing the existence of a problem does not mean that the discussion will end up in a stand-by. Gender inequality is a problem, yet this statement is only the starting point of potentially innovative ways of working together. It only takes ten minutes to turn a problem into ground for opportunities. I think that the amazing students of the Ernst Reuter Schule would be disappointed of realizing that we think masculine versus feminine, when they think, pair, share.