Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Beware the open mic - it can reveal your prejudice

Amusing report on CNN today on the comments made by Gov Ed Rendell on the selection of Janet Napolitano to lead Homeland Security. He says: "Janet's perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it".

Prejudiced and stunningly dumb to say it! And I just posted on this issue last week - how hard it is for women to find balance in a world where men are typically assumed to have someone at home (and often do) and women are expected to be the primary caregiver if they have kids.

I very much agree with Campbell Brown's questions in her report on this incident:
1. If a man had been Obama's choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns.
2. As a woman, hearing this, it is hard not to wonder if we are counted out for certain jobs, certain opportunities, because we do have a family or because we are in our child-bearing years. Are we? It is a fair question.
3. If you are a childless, single woman with suspicions that you get stuck working holidays, weekends and the more burdensome shifts more often than your colleagues with families, are those suspicions well-founded? Probably so. Is there an assumption that if you're family-free then you have no life? By some, yes.

The only way we will change assumptions is to live the change and show how women can be in the workplace, in senior positions, with families. And it will change if we live it and point the living out. In most cases I find the prejudice is not malicious in any way, it's just lack of practise. I saw a trivial, amusing example the other day: email from an institution I am involved with where all the other parties are male - a question of whether dinner should be "with wives" or not? That was an easy one to nudge with humor.

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