If you identify as a woman and work with other people, chances are you can relate to this viral Twitter thread written by Esther Choo, MD MPH. Or maybe not. Maybe you work in a female-dominated field where women kick ass every day, are totally supported, and receive the respect they deserve. And if you do, ROCK ON AND KEEP GOING.
Unfortunately, many workplace environments are still stuck in the previous century, and women are, frankly, sick of it. This is why Choo, a DOCTOR, says she’s going to write a book entitled, Is It Gender Bias, Or Do I Just Suck? (the answer being, NO, you don’t suck. It’s actually gender bias.)
As shared on Quartz at Work, Choo, an associate professor at Oregon Health & Science University, is also a co-founder of Equity Quotient, which analyzes workplace-equity in the healthcare field. Also, with this issue being her passion, Choo is also known to frequently tweet about sexism and discrimination in the medical profession.
And we are grateful that she does, as not only is she shedding light on a crucial issue that remains prevalent in today’s society, but also, she gives women a voice—women who are passed over for opportunities, talked over at meetings, and are generally mistreated and ignored. And too often, these women worry that they do, in fact, suck at their jobs and may blame themselves. But as Choo’s tweets points out, these are incidents of gender bias, not incompetence or laziness on the woman’s part.
In her Twitter thread that’s been liked by more than 2,000 users and retweeted nearly 700 times, Choo opens with this scenario:
And to further drive home her points, Choo pairs her tweets with images from a well-known (but antiquated and obviously sexist) children’s book about manners, called What Do You Say Dear? for comedic irony. And it works beautifully.
For the above tweet about female employees not being heard, the image is of a women shouting over the din of a bear orchestra, which effectively drowns out her voice. Hmmm.
Another tweet reads:
In this picture, the girl is learning how to apologize when she walks backwards and accidentally bumps into a giant angry (male) crocodile. So it’s obviously fitting for when a female in the workplace theoretically “bumps” into a male. Too often we are taught to say “I’m sorry,” and step aside, letting him go first.
She also addresses the age-old trick of conveniently leaving a woman out of key roles and opportunities once she’s announced she’s pregnant and has an upcoming maternity leave. And, the always popular tendency to assign “housekeeping” roles to women, like scheduling and planning events, while seats on major committees that decide on company policies and the like go to men, is in there too.
Pairing her tweets with a book that includes one page where a woman is tied up, only to be let free to eat breakfast, at which point she says “How do you do?” to her pirate captor, is genius. While this is a book about manners, something all kids should learn and practice, it was written in 1958 and, well, things have obviously changed. It’s about time children’s books (and the workforce) caught up.
Leah Fessler, author of the Quartz at Work piece that discusses Choo’s Twitter thread, says that it’s more than blatant sexism like unequal pay and sexual harassment that pull women down. It’s also micro-aggressions like the ones depicted here that “chip away at a women’s self-confidence.”
“The longer this cycle persists, the more we begin to paralyze ourselves from professional opportunities and success,” Fessler goes on to say. “We begin to experience increased ‘imposter syndrome,’ the conviction that any progress we do make is a fluke and that we’re truly not qualified to work among our more illustrious (read: white, male) peers.”
Choo, an Asian-American woman who believes that employees are often discriminated against due to race, ethnicity, gender identity, and gender orientation, wanted to give woman a voice and help them see themselves for who and what they truly are. “Women need to be aware of the very serious possibility that they are awesome, and actually it is bias that has led to the blunting of opportunity,” she says.
Are there times when a woman is not granted an opportunity simply due to qualifications and skill? Of course. That’s how the world works. But, Choo says, “Women will describe these workplace situations where there is a 99% chance that their circumstance, or someone’s behavior, has to do with bias and discrimination at play. And maybe a 1% chance that it has to do with underperformance. And they will latch on to that ONE thing. So I wanted to draw out situations like that, when, to an outside eye, it is so patently obvious that there is bias at play. I wanted to give women permission and agency to say, ‘Wait, maybe it’s not me!’”
Think about it. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe that self-doubting voice in your head is wrong. And maybe you deserve that promotion, or that raise, or to be heard at work. Read these tweets. Do they look familiar? Is it gender bias, or do you just suck? If it’s option #1, it’s time to throw away the 1950s books about manners and get a little loud. Make ourselves heard. We don’t need to politely greet the pirate who captured us and tied us up. Or let the angry crocodile go first.
This is 2018, and time we stood alongside Esther Choo and wrote a new damn book.