It is a sign of my privilege as a man that until very recently, I did not realize that “not all men” was the man equivalent of “all lives matter”. It’s the argument men jump to when they hear about a woman being harassed or discriminated against or otherwise mistreated in the workplace, or at school, or at the store or basically any other place they exist.
Sure, yeah, by bad actors, but not all men are like that…”
Sounds completely reasonable, right? You don’t pick on women, you don’t make rude comments to women–hell you’re half woman yourself, on your mom’s side! After all, you have sister(s)/daughter(s)/wife(s)/neighbor(s)/celebrity crush(es) that are women. You’re a decent man, not like those other jerks, so you’re good to go, right? But being a man automatically gives you a leg up in most industries, and you likely don’t even consider it. Men are automatically considered more competent and harder working than women, and that’s a privilege you should acknowledge.
Many years and a few lifetimes ago, I was the manager of an infrastructure team. My wife was a software engineer at the time, which made me, by association, pretty woke. I had also hired a (talented/hard working/fully qualified for the job) woman, which pretty much proved that I was one of the “good ones”. The average maturity level of all the men on this team was that of a 13 year old, and we routinely picked on each other with jokes that weren’t exactly safe for work. The woman on the team, J, noticed early on that we behaved differently when she was around, and insisted that we treat her like “one of the guys” because she was totally comfortable with our dumb jokes.
We’d also routinely schedule down time and maintenance after hours and on weekends. While several of us had kids, we almost never considered childcare before scheduling these outages. J was a single mother and sole caretaker of her three children, but she would agree to these crazy hours, always insisting it was no big deal.
I periodically had one on one meetings with every member of my team, and they were set up on the calendar. The ones with the men were often skipped because we had chatted over coffee or lunch or during a late shift at the data center recently, but the ones with J usually happened in a conference room at the scheduled time. I didn’t offer to have lunch or coffee with her alone, because it felt awkward, and she said the extra formality just for her did not bother her.
These things did not occur to me as strange at all at the time. My wife had faced blatant sexism at every one of her jobs so far, and I was upset, outraged about the behavior of these horrible men with big egos and small egos (heh heh), while being completely confident I was doing everything right.
I now lead a team of some of the brightest technical minds around, and half of the team comprises women. While I feel confident that every person I hire is the best person for the job, the higher than industry average for women on this team is not an accident. I feel like I am definitely one of the “good ones” now. But when I check with my wife about things I say or do at work, I still find that I have more to learn.
You can’t truly experience what things are like for someone you are not, but acknowledging that you were allowed to jump higher than someone who did not have a safe place to fall can help you make better decisions.
Being privileged doesn’t mean that you are always wrong and people without privilege are always right. It means that there is a good chance you are missing a few very important pieces of the puzzle.”― Ijeoma Oluo