How Citi Sabotages the Office Environment with "What Women Do to Sabotage Their Careers" L
September 22, 2010
With women earning an average of 77.1% of their male counterparts, the last thing we need is to be blamed for the situation. But that’s what this list, displayed on the desks of Citi HR representatives, seems to do. “What women do to sabotage their careers” takes an aggressive and paternalistic tone, accusing female employees of such workplace crimes as “speak[ing] softly” and “sit[ting] demurely” and comparing them to “children [who] are taught to ask permission.” Grandly and paternalistically (and grammatically incorrectly), it declares that “men don’t ask permission, they inform.”
That men and women – or more accurately, some men and some women – may have different styles of communication and self-presentation is a well-documented idea. But in this list, extracted from business coach Dr. Lois Frankel’s “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” gets that point across in a demeaning way. It insists that women’s styles are both singular and singularly incorrect, and that women should change to accommodate a predominantly male work environment.
That it sits only on the desks of female HR reps suggest that Citi may have had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right with this list of exhortations. Could it have been, among other things, the implication in #2 that “femininity” and “capability” are mutually exclusive? Or the patronizing warning against “erod[ing] your self-confidence?” Composed of negatives, the list scolds its female readers for actions portrayed as consistently female and consistently wrong. But it fails to mention that many of these women are working in a world that rewards typically male styles without realizing that there are other possibilities. It’s worth noting that as of 2007, Citibank had 75 male executive and senior managers and only 18 women at the same level; could a gendered environment be more apparent?
If you’re interested in workplace communication and the way gender plays into it, check out Deborah Tannen’s “Talking from 9 to 5: Men and Women at Work.” Tannen carefully considers gendered communication styles and offers an interpretation full of subtlety and devoid of judgment. She is careful to point out the potential benefits and potential risks of both gendered styles of communication. She also repeatedly emphasizes that neither style is wrong; miscommunications arise when the different styles and codes collide.
That this list is being treated largely as a joke indicates, thankfully, that it is recognizably ridiculous. But it can’t be funny when it’s staring you in the face from a neighboring desk, and the problem it illustrates isn’t funny at all. If Citi wants to promote women’s achievement in the workforce, good for them! But an insulting list of what-not-to-do is hardly the way to go.
So Citi, here’s a tip for you: DO work to support women’s careers. And as a first step, DO take this list off your desks.