We all are aware of the stereotypes and biases with which women habitually cope.
Even so, it was a reality check to see the current reality laid out so clearly by the 2017 social listening research from Havas which showed the extent to which women in the public eye are abused on social media every single day.
The women on our power list – who included journalists, MPs, actors and activists - received an average of 238 abusive, demeaning, and/or violent tweets a day.
The emotional toll these women pay simply to exist and excel in their respective careers is horrific. Equally appalling is the fact that so much of this abuse comes not from men but from other women. What underlies this tendency of women to undermine one another?
More importantly, what can we do collectively and individually to combat it?
We all agree that our femaleness should not be an added burden we carry into the workplace. We should not have to be coquettish to get ahead or act like “one of the lads” to gain acceptance.
We are enough. We know that.
And yet…most of us find ourselves falling into the little traps we have vowed to avoid.
Every time we smile or even laugh when someone makes us uncomfortable rather than calling him out, we contribute to this culture of sexism.
Every time we mock the style choices of a woman in the public eye, we contribute to the notion that women owe it to the world to dress and behave in a way that pleases others.
Every time we remain silent or dismiss a demeaning quip or action as not that big a deal—or, worse, when we tell young female colleagues or actors or models that it is not a big deal—we contribute to the notion that women have to play by rules not of our own making. Or liking. Rules that have nothing to do with the job we have been hired to do.
At Havas’s US HQ last week we hosted a number of high profile, powerful women to share their insights into this hot topic. Among them Karina Givargisoff, founder of Mission Magazine, Ruth Vitale, CEO of CreativeFuture and model and activist Elliott Sailors as well as senior representatives from the likes of Macy’s, Vice, IBM and Ralph Lauren.
Our pre-dinner panel discussion resulted in both food for thought and a number of resolutions. Among them:
We all need to think before we post on social media. We need to think about the human being at the other end of the post.
And we need to think whether what we are saying—and how we are saying it—contributes to the sort of world in which we want to live. And we need to call people out for their bad behaviours in this regard. (Let’s all unleash our inner J.K. Rowling.)
- We need to support one another, by not turning a blind eye to those gestures and jokes and innuendo that make all our work lives harder. It needs to be #UsToo, not just #MeToo.
- As media owners and content providers, we need to portray women in all of their complexity, not focus solely on their external characteristics.
- As employers and managers, we need to work hard to avoid applying the same assumptions and biases to other women that we dislike seeing applied to ourselves.
- We need to do all we can to ensure that the current misogyny “extinction burst” sparked by the unmasking of Weinstein et al. turns into a movement with permanent impact.
- And we need to remember that kindness and compassion are not a sign of weakness but a source of great power.
We have a long way to go as we work to eradicate sexism in the workplace and the broader culture of antagonism and violence against women.
But we believe that the more we hold events such as this - and the more we come together to talk about and find ways to address gender-based inequities and hostilities - the more likely we will be to make real progress.
This dinner was a start, and the presentation of our social listening findings to the UN Women foundation next week will be an even bigger step.
By Tracey Barber, Group Chief Marketing Officer, Havas UK.