Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reverse Discrimination Amid the Cubicles

My corner of the cube farm on my birthday this year....

I'm not what people would generally classify as an Alpha Male.  I've never been one to ever "pick up chicks," been confused with what one might identify as "a player" or have ever used my gender to impose upon women.  My wife complains that I'm too nice and need to fight with her more often, so I guess I'm a jerk because I'm too nice and I can deal with that.  My point here is that I'm not an aggressive person, especially when it comes to women, but at work I've never really had any gender related issues.  In fact, one might say I thrived when I worked at a mid-west, regional bank that predominantly employed women.  I was one of maybe 30 or 40 guys out of about 150 people in our sector.  For some reason it didn't bother me, as everyone was friendly, equal minded and fair.  That's what makes my experience in a similar role, working in a suburb of Oregon that much more confusing.  One thing that is different is that I am a man working in the historically female dominated world of Temporary Employment.  Yet I've felt more gender bias at work in this position than any other I've had anywhere else.

Well, there was this one time, fresh out of High School that I worked at a pizza joint in LA where I quickly found myself to be the last male employee amid the host/wait staff and was soon replaced by a buxom beauty.  Did I feel slighted?  You're damn right I did.  Did the owners (a collection of three middle-aged Italian guys), who had no real reason to fire me, look sheepish and guilty as sin when they fired me?  You're damn right they did.

So it's not like I haven't to some degree felt this before, yet for the first time I truly felt I could make a serious sexual harassment claim or as some refer to it, reverse sexual harassment.  It feels easier to do when working in a department comprised of 6 men out 25 total (only 1 male, non-temp out of 10, making it all but impossible to be male AND hired full-time) and our supervisor is a woman.  A person who often strolls around the department, gossiping with the women, rarely taking the time to pay such courtesies to the not quite "fairer" sex.

In fact, she has gone as far as to have discussions with other women, right near me (albeit in a slightly hushed tone), talking about how her daughter's father didn't want anything to do with her before she was born, in turn generalizing about the irresponsibility of men and how it specifically effected her perception of them.  They talked about dating men and what jerks they were.  Most every group conversation, ordering of take-out for lunch and so on was kept within a tight group of women who almost never included those outside their circle. There have been a number of other instances and personalities I could portray here but it was these specific instances that I found most frustrating and inappropriate. And to be clear, there wasn't anything I ever did to individually deserve such treatment nor was anything ever directed specifically at me, yet it hasn't exactly made for a cordial, male friendly environment.

Conversely, it must also be said that I have previously worked in a predominantly female department where everyone knew each other well and there was a more collegial atmosphere where everyone was included and where if someone crossed the line, they let it be known.  My current employment is made more awkward by the fact that most everyone wears headphones almost all day long, making those unused to the environment more socially detached and less conversive, thus a temp-dominant department where everyone is less trusting of each other, in turn making temps all-the-more wary of the persons in charge.

So, I thought about filing a complaint but I knew it wouldn't augur well for my future as a temp in this female rich department, so I kept it to myself.  And of course I had to keep in mind the inherent bias that comes with being a lowly temp, such as having to park clear over on the other side of our huge campus, which takes at least 10 minutes to cross to reach my desk (it used to be worse: temps were once asked to park off campus then be shuttled to campus). Or the confusion that comes from being employed by a temp agency, then contracted by a corporation, which in the end means I'd be filing a claim against someone who technically works for a different company.  I could go on about never receiving a raise in my 13 months of a 18 month contract (something most others were afforded), but I'm not a "real temp" - those often without a college degree, who've worked at multiple sites and tend to be female... which might more specifically explain the slights I perceived to be against me, not my disposition which I had no control over.  Or maybe it's just their way to compel those they know aren't expected to be with the agency long term or complete the contract to leave, making way for those not demanding a higher wage.

What it really has made me stand up and pay attention to, aside from what I've found to be a growing and increasingly socio-economic bit of discrimination in the over use of temps in corporate America today, is the distinctly female environment found in the banking sector today.  This isn't a bad thing, in fact, I'll go as far as to say it's a great thing.  Though it does make me wonder what it is about retail banking that has drawn so many women into it's ranks.  I suppose it could be attributed to the abundance of entry level positions available to everybody, regardless of gender, at branches and call centers in our service obsessed culture.  I don't quite understand why exactly this is, so if anyone has any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them.

Lastly and maybe even more disconcerting to me, is the lack of women in the higher-echelons of the financial/banking sector.  And those that do get there, at least in my experience, tend to be hard wired, tiger-lady personalities, often modelling themselves in a high-fashion, sexually intimidating and socially terse way.  I'm not saying that all women who've reached higher financial management positions are like this, but it's been a distinctly obvious phenomenon in the banking departments I've worked in.  Is it the attitudes or sexual bias of men that have pushed them to such extremes?  Is it purely a drive to succeed at any cost, using their youthful looks, dress and attitude to not so much advance but to keep from losing the position they've already attained to some one younger and more attractive?  Is it in anyway the same for men?

Being just a little guy in a sea of cubicles predominantly occupied by women, I've never quite been able to know the captain of the ship. The whole phenomenon is really intriguing to me and it makes me want to know who these women are, what drives them and to better understand this culture.  I doubt I'll learn anything more as I'll most likely be leaving this odd reality in a few weeks having finally found a real full-time job that doesn't reside in the banking world.  It's a liberating feeling, yet we shouldn't escape the reality that we're all curious beings with difficult questions to ask with even tougher answers to derive in light of the accusations and repercussions one might face in attempting to be heard above the din of commerce.  Believe you me, I know how that feels.