#OpenGender Monologues - A tool for more dialogues

This post originally appeared on Medium.

How many times have you heard of a female colleague complain about sexism in the open government and civic tech space? Chances are if you’re a man, this is the first you hear of it, but the sad truth is, the sinking feeling of being discriminated is something women are well familiar with. We just don’t get a chance to express it a lot.

That was the idea behind the Friday lunchtime Open Gender monologues session at Paris Open Government Partnership Summit. The aim of the session was to open up about what it was like to not be a man in the open data, open government, civic technology space. Before the session, Morasked people to submit stories, either attributed or anonymous, to the OpenHeroines group. These were read out live during the session by both men and women to bring to life the struggles that people, women or other gendered people, people of colour and people who identify as LGBTQA+ face while working in the Open Government, Open Data and Civic Tech space.

We heard stories of over-sexualisation of colleagues, discrimination based on gender or sexuality or race, and of times when we might let something slip past because we don’t quite trust ourselves to stand up and say “That’s discrimination!” (You can read more of those stories here)

Sometimes it can be simple to see where a comment or action creates inequity, but the motives behind these are not always so clear cut. From the stories, we heard you had to wonder if the people perpetuating this discrimination were consciously aware of what they were saying, doing and how it made their female colleagues feel. This is why sessions like the OpenHeriones one are so important to showcase the voices of those who may be dismissed in their daily lives.

In a space discussing the challenges and trying to open minds, as the first step to greater inclusion, it was disappointing to see less than 10% of the attendees identify as male. For change to happen and for our experiences to be heard and understood, we need rooms with more diverse audiences—including white cis men—who are willing to listen. Most crucially we need those audiences to understand that this is not a personal attack on them but the start of a dialogue on how to make things better.

I wanted to leave you with a story that really brought home to me what this kind of discrimination is and more crucially, how we often react to dismiss it or suggest it’s something we ourselves have done.

A friend of mine told me, anonymously, about an interview she had recently and the feedback she got from it. She was specifically asked to apply for a position within a team by her mentor—who seemed convinced she would get the job. Though she wasn’t completely sure the position was right for her she agreed to apply and was given an interview. All through the process her mentor was extremely positive, saying the interview would be tough but that she was a shoe in for the position if she did a great presentation—right up until another senior manager got involved.

Suddenly her mentor’s tune changed—my friend had to bring her A game, competition was going to be tough and even if she did a great job it no longer seemed likely that she would get the role. But, that’s interviewing, thought my friend. So she went, she did her interview and did her best, and didn’t get the job.

You’re probably thinking “How is that sexism? How is that discrimination? She just didn’t do as well as the other person!” That’s what she thought, until she asked for feedback from the interview panel.

A woman at work Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a “Vengeance” dive bomber, Tennessee —the library of congress
 

The feedback she received was disappointing. The other candidate she was up against was male and known to the senior manager doing the interview—unlike my friend. They told her she had scored full marks on each section of the interview and the presentation as did the other candidate but they didn’t give her any feedback on why she didn’t get offered the position.

She pushed a bit harder because she wasn’t offered a second interview, which would have been usual procedure in her workplace for candidates with similar interview scores. Finally she received some comments which suggested that her management style was too soft, a criticism that is often levelled at women in management positions.

Her comments to me? “It’s hard to be told that even when you’re absolutely at your best, we’d still choose to hire a man over you—but maybe I just wasn’t good enough.” Despite having been told that the other candidate and her scored exactly the same on the interview, she still believed the fault was with her rather than with the interviewing team or that there had been an unfairly skewed interview process. This is the attitude we need to change, for everyone everywhere, so that life can get that little bit more equitable.

If you’ve had similar experiences and want a space to share your story—you can submit your story to be published anonymously or with credit here: [worldopenheroines@gmail.com]

Authors: Jen Bramley
Topics: Gender