Posted on Feb 22, 2021 2021 at 12:30Updated Feb 22, 2021 2021 at 12:38
“Today, is it even possible to have a career when you are a heterosexual white man? “ The question will make those who fight for more equality in the workplace leap. It also caused a stir when an employee asked it during a training session organized by the social innovation consulting firm Alternego. The training was interrupted and gave way to a heated debate to say the least.
Marie Donzel, consultant in charge of training, tells the story: men and women already well acquainted with sexism remind the speaker of his privileges, supported by some older men, who have already “made a career”“. In the fray, women speak out to defend him and reaffirm their refusal to be promoted as “women quotas”. We then find ourselves in a situation where those for whom these measures have been introduced choose to fight them. Confusion adds to the tension.
Lack of awareness of stereotypes
A scene certainly replayed in many companies, as the issue of positive discrimination has been on the rise in recent years. In 2011, when the Coppé-Zimmermann law was passed, “The question of parity in the company is approached with a lot of optimism”, remembers Marie Donzel. Managers, shareholders and communications departments understand that parity can be a performance lever. We wonder, sometimes with concern, if the pool of women is sufficient to meet the ambition. But for this specialist in professional equality issues, “The management of the conflicts generated has been eliminated”, while it requires a long work to raise awareness of gender stereotypes in business.
“Understanding that women do not have as many chances as men in their careers, that the game is fundamentally unequal, it is a long and tedious questioning”, confirms Marc Bernardin, director of the diversity consulting firm Accordia. For men who do not perceive the indirect discrimination that women suffer, and who have perhaps never felt any form of exclusion in their professional career, it is difficult to curb a feeling of incomprehension and injustice in the face of the choice of positive discrimination.
The feeling of being sacrificed
Pierre was leaving his position as director of a subsidiary when he was replaced by a much younger woman, who did not seem to have the experience necessary for this particularly risky, political position. He had to spend time training her and preparing her for taking up her post. Caroline Degrave, his career coach, says he was frightened by the fact that his company could take so many risks to respond, according to him, only to the imperatives of professional diversity. Pierre will not speak about it to the human resources department or to his colleagues, but will leave disillusioned with his company. Will he have been seized, like others, by a certain “quota blues”?
The application of such measures is not always said and assumed in a transparent manner in the company. Which can add to the discomfort. In London, 40% of employees who responded to the Women Initiative Foundation study believe that positive discrimination in favor of women is applied by their employer. This is more than their German (15%) and Italian (25%) cousins. Among Caroline Degrave's clients, the majority of whom are men aged forty to fifty-five, executives in large groups, several believe that positive discrimination situations have harmed them, giving them the feeling that their company does not take their concerns into consideration. experience, their loyalty, their commitment. “At their age, they are waiting for recognition from the company, they want to take a final pivotal stage in their career, which does not come. “
“They are not machos”, assures Caroline Degrave. Some are convinced that affirmative action policies make it possible to rebalance inequalities in the long term. But when they feel like it's being done at the expense of their own careers, that's another story. They feel they have been sacrificed.
Some are also convinced that these policies do not tackle the roots of the problem and are rather explained by a desire to quickly restore the image of the company. “”Sometimes, by wanting to promote women at all costs, the company tends to propel them to positions which expose them very quickly, when they do not have the required experience, and thus put them in danger. , testifies a client of Caroline Degrave. I have witnessed failures when people had tremendous potential. Supporting women to take the steps to access managerial positions is one of the foundations of equal opportunities which is not always put in place by companies. When will there be a real substantive policy? “
“Gender fatigue”, when everyone is exhausted
Either way, gender equality is a pervasive topic in business, especially since the #MeToo movement, notes Marie Donzel. “”Even employees for whom this is an ancillary subject are confronted with it in spite of themselves every day, at the coffee machine, in the company newsletter, during training …” This can cause a rebound effect, a form of mental exhaustion linked to the constant attention paid to this subject, even though discrimination is still current.
It is “gender fatigue”, analyzed for the first time in 2009 by Elisabeth Kelan, professor at Cranfield University. On the one hand, the militants become discouraged, they become focused actors, who form a common circle and only speak to convinced people. On the other hand, those who are not particularly sensitive to the subject start to reject it en bloc, out of discomfort and fed up. “Even in situations of equal treatment, these employees come to see facts of positive discrimination”, notes Marc Bernardin, from Accordia. At this stage, reducing gender inequalities in business is a puzzle far from resolved.