Risk and no (professional) reward

By | October 19, 2013

I think I mostly disagree with this. My thoughts used to be quite different but they’ve changed a lot over the past few weeks with all that has been going on. I do think it is safer to avoid female colleagues

By the way, I do think what Bora did and was apparently doing was wrong and qualifies as harassment.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that if any expression of interest in a female colleague can be misinterpreted or potentially used against you in the future, the safest act is to pretend that she doesn’t exist.

Since humans will never be the sexless, perfect automatons that we wish, I don’t really have a better strategy as a male – protecting my interests to me is more important than advancing someone else’s career. That is harsh I realize, but also true.

I don’t think in the current climate I’d ever want to or attempt to be a mentor or close confidante of a woman in IT, as there’d be just too much risk of misinterpretation by others and by the woman herself. While it’d be perfectly natural for me to ask a male colleague if he wanted to grab a bite to eat with me after working a long night, with a woman that’d be suspect if she and I did it alone. Etc.

Fuck that. I don’t have time for dealing with that. I don’t want to treat my female colleagues as fragile flowers and where all my actions that I’d do without a second thought with a male colleague are suspect and that I am creepy and threatening with no possibility of being proven otherwise.

That isn’t equality. That’s just the opposite of equality, actually.

The other day when I was reading about Jeff Bezos’ “shadows,” it bothered me a little that not a single one had been a woman. I have no idea about Bezos’ thinking on the matter, but I understand I think why that might be the case. It’s about managing risk.

And no, I don’t believe that every woman is out there, just waiting for the opportunity for some ambiguous event to occur to take a powerful man down.

But I do believe it’s far less risky as a man in the current climate to just avoid the issue altogether. I really, truly hate saying that as I’ve always been (as anyone can see from reading my blog) an utter and unapologetic proponent of women’s full participation in society and also a campaigner for full, true, radical equality.

Speaking only for myself, though, for me at this point it is just not worth the risk. Others can decide for themselves, of course.

This is playing itself out in real life, though I didn’t connect it until now. The other day I had to do some work on the phone system, and I ended up at a woman’s desk and idly chatting with her as I did something to her phone. Turns out we had a lot in common and that our personalities seemed to mesh. She’d even worked in IT in the past as a helpdesk tech, and had liked it.

Normally, she’d be someone I’d probably talk to again and would even try to recruit into IT as there are so few women. And perhaps make a friend (though that appears verboten these days).  Instead, I’ve found myself avoiding her and deliberately not talking to her as I just don’t want to go there. Just too much risk in it all.

I don’t give a shit about losing male privilege. I don’t even want male privilege. But when the risk vs. rewards of doing something are not in my favor, it is natural to respond to the incentives present and err to the non-risk side.

While it’s clear that what Bora did was wrong, the way this has all been conducted, speaking as a man here is exactly what most men are going to get out of this: Wow, seems like there is no safe way to conduct ourselves around female colleagues, and woe betide us if we happen to actually like our female colleague as more than just a co-worker*, despite the fact that romantic feelings often just happen without anyone wishing them — therefore it’s just safest just to avoid the women at work altogether if possible.

I imagine more than a few men who’d never harass a woman or anyone are making the same calculation. The problem with all this of course is those men who’d never harass women are most affected, while the harassers and creeps are mostly untouched.

And of course women’s careers are even more damaged.

But that’s life – it doesn’t have to be fair. And it isn’t.

*Something like 50% of people meet their spouses at work. That’s where people spend most of their time, after all. Making any expression of interest in a colleague forbidden and default harassment is absolutely fucking insane, in my opinion.