‘Choose to Challenge’ – What does this mean? (IWD 2021)

Choosing to challenge gender bias and inequality in order to create a fairer and more equal world for women is something that does not always come easily. This had me wondering, why? As we know,  gender stereotypes and the roles women play in everyday contexts are so deeply ingrained in our culture that breaking free of these constraints can sometimes feel daunting.

Women can feel judged, irrational and impolite for being unapologetic and forward if challenging inequality when they see it. This is because unconsciously, we conform to our culturally accepted roles in society as creatures who are sweet, polite, graceful, inferior and agreeable – the total opposite of how women can feel when we challenge everyday inequality. Our evolutionary brain loves the familiar and so subconsciously we cling onto those patterns of behaviour.

What we must learn is true, is that duality exists- women can be both forward, demanding, unapologetic, sweet and polite and inherently know that all of this is okay and is part of what makes women so incredible. Those who understand this, find it easy to challenge and don’t apologise for doing so. These women are role models for those that struggle with the negative feelings and vibes that we get when and if we do, choose to challenge inequality.

We generally all know that giving promotions to a man over a woman because of gender, paying women unequally to their male counterparts and not considering their differing needs is blatant discrimination (see here for the full list) but what about more subtle examples of inequality in a workplace? These can be hard to distinguish and even harder to call out. 

For example, say you have a colleague at work who is slightly older and in a position of power in relation to you. Over the last few months, during meetings, this colleague has continually disregarded your opinion over your male counterparts’, on important topics and this is starting to make you feel unhappy. This type of inequality is subtle- over time it can be damaging to confidence/ work productivity and ultimately shows little respect for your opinion and experience.

How can we challenge effectively?

Knowing this is wrong, but not knowing how to challenge it, leaves you stuck. Here are some tips for choosing to challenge this scenario in a productive way:

  1. Effective Communication

Learning how to effectively communicate can improve all areas of your life. It involves stating what you believe the issue is, not generalising, not personally attacking, stating how it makes you feel and stating what you would like to change. This keeps your challenge factual but honours your emotional experience. 

  1. Write a Script

Feeling angry is ok but blowing up reactively is not and usually leads to saying things you will regret or things you don’t mean. A better way to approach this (very valid) anger, is when you are feeling ok, write a script of what you want to say, following the rules above for effective communication. Carry this with you for when you feel you need to use it. 

  1. Be direct

If you feel brave and want to call your colleague out on the spot, remember that you have every right to be asked to be treated with respect and consideration- it is inherent in your being. Remain professional, but don’t be afraid to get your concern across in a direct manner. 

  1. Follow Up

Tell your colleague that you will email them a copy of what you have spoken about so you can both be clear about how you will move forward. Follow up with them at a later date to see if things have improved. 

  1. Hold Them Accountable

If the issue does not get resolved or if you feel that your concern has not been taken seriously – speak to your HR department and hold the person accountable for their actions and words. 

Being able to challenge with confidence is a choice that we choose to make or choose to ignore continually throughout our lives- the more your practice, the better you will get at it. The most important thing is knowing that it is your right to challenge inequality when you see it so that we can make the world (and the workplace) a fairer and more equal place for the future. 

For inspiration, check out: Challenging Gender Inequality Blog.

For more information on Equality in the workplace, check out page 19 in Futures Magazine here.

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