My head was swimming with statistics by the end of the Schiebinger reading, but her section on workplaces divisions between the sexes rung true to me. This is probably because I’ve seen these divides play out firsthand, when I worked for an auto dealership in Nashville last summer.
The auto industry is male-dominated, and men hold the monopoly over the stereotype of the sleazy car salesman. The only women at the dealership were in customer service or other secretary-type positions. My boss and I, who worked in web/graphic design, rarely interacted with the female employees.
Thus it was kind of a special occasion when a few times a month, a female employee at one of our business partners came into the dealership to meet with my boss. And here’s where things got sticky.
My boss’s office was directly next to the call center, where 8-10 phone conversations were always in progress at a given time. To hear someone talk in his office (or even just to hear yourself think), closing my boss’s door was a must. 95% of the time, this was a non-issue: my boss met almost exclusively with male employees. But as I mentioned earlier, every once in a while a female rep would come in to the dealership for a meeting.
He’s complained to me countless times about the difficulty of the situation. In this work environment it would be considered inappropriate for him to close his office door while a woman is in the room. Doing so would surely earn him a number of suspicious glances and suggestive comments from his co-workers. But leaving the door open to the clamor outside makes it incredibly difficult to have a productive meeting.
Not to mention, of course, that leaving the door open suggests to both parties and all onlookers that this businesswoman needs the protection being extended to her. It’s obviously tempting to say someone, either my boss or his female colleague, should just “make a stand” and close the door anyway, but it’s both difficult and risky to break the status quo when the stakes involve your source of income.
I’m not sure what the solution is. Though they may seem trivial or surface-level, these biases and divisions do a great deal to determine how men and women interact in the workplace. I get the feeling that closing these gaps will require a deeper systemic shift, unless a number of bold individuals prove willing to break the mold and withstand the heat.