The conversations taking place around discrimination against women in the workplace tend to focus on what women should do about it.
Arming women at work with self-help advice, leadership courses and support groups fails to recognize the great big bull elephant in the room; Patriarchy is a Practice, not a belief system. It’s a real thing, run by men who have earned their power through the old-boys networks over decades.
This Boys’ Club protects itself by consolidating power amongst its members and their peers and by reinforcing the belief that women are not welcome at this table. This practice, this entrenched system, has a defence mechanism which kicks into gear when threatened.
How does this still happen in the workplace today? Well, because male privilege is very much still part of our social fabric. In the church. In politics. In the boardroom. In the ownership and control of resources. In the home. In the bedroom.
Male privilege assumes women are weak and incapable of fulfilling any function outside the family home. Male privilege feeds on the exclusion of women from traditional male roles. Male privilege in South Africa is something women can’t really rise above until men do something about it.
These are the conversations we should be having. Not what women can do. But what men MUST do. Disempower their misbelief in their own superiority. And that’s where companies should be shifting their focus; supporting women at work by challenging men to interrogate their own sense of privilege and bigotry. Only by eliminating the sense of power and brotherhood created by toxic masculinity will women be truly inclusive in the workplace.