Last Updated on August 2, 2022 by Editorial Staff

Soft sexism

By MC staff.

Earlier this year Ellen Pao lost her huge lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, which she claimed practised a discriminatory corporate culture. The evidence hinged on a number of  incidents where Pao claimed she was treated differently to her male colleagues because she was a woman. They were incidents that could easily be interpreted in different ways depending on your own personal viewpoint.

Annie Lowrey compares these incidents to what happens regularly to herself and her husband at cocktail parties. Her husband gets asked how his business is going, while Annie is asked about her dogs. Is this soft sexism or just a measure of how much the questioner can’t be bothered to remember what the wife does? Either way it’s deeply irritating. And it may well be discriminatory, but just how would you go about proving it? You know it’s not right, but convincing two different observers of the same assessment would be challenging.

Pao was criticised for her ‘sharp elbows’ and similar negative comments were made about her male colleagues , but they were promoted and she wasn’t. The guys were invited on a skiing trip but she wasn’t. Being a white male Harvard or Stanford drop-out (think the founders of Amazon, Google and Netscape) with no social life, meant you were a sound investment proposition. Subtle differences in approach, if not found to be sexist in a court of law.

But women encounter gender bias on a daily basis, soft or not. How many woman, for example, have sat in a client meeting knowing they will be expected to fetch refreshments before their male colleagues are asked?

You can read the full article on Ellen Pao and the Sexism You Can’t Quite Prove in the New York Magazine.

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