A Facebook friend posted “Why open plan offices are like a nudist beach” (Washington Post):
In the #MeToo era, an open-office environment might seem like the perfect solution for fixing the sexual harassment that can take place behind closed office doors. If there are glass walls everywhere, and no one has doors or even plastic partitions to reserve any sense of privacy, groping and sexual advances might be harder to get away with.
But that hardly means it’s an office arrangement women love. Research has already shown that women tend to be more sensitive than men to the noise generated in open-plan offices, and take more long sick leaves when they work in them. Now a recently published study of a British government office showed that open-plan offices may be tougher for women in different ways — leaving them feeling more scrutinized for their appearance, subject to staring by male peers and more self-conscious about their status in the organization.
Silicon Valley women express their unhappiness:
“A couple jobs ago, I was basically a zoo animal. Incessant staring and comments on my clothes, makeup, jewelry, conversations, personal habits, food, facial expressions, everything. One guy would even stare between the monitors all day and comment while I worked.”
(Why was she wearing makeup and jewelry if she wanted to keep the lowest possible profile?)
Another reader, named only Veronica G., wrote Fast Company to say “my own office was a glass box and my desk did not have a facade – which meant, because I always wear skirts or dresses instead of pants, I had to sit with my knees together all the time to look ‘proper’ because I was visible from all angles.”
(Why not get some pants at Costco for $20? Or shop for rompers? (I learned recently from a 3rd grader that “rompers” look like a dress on top, but are divided into pants on the bottom))
What was interesting about this was the ensuing discussion:
Married-with-kids male engineer (“mengineer”?): Journalism in 2018: Pick a situation or practice. Say that women (or minorities) are disproportionately affected. Collect thunderous applause.
Male-named college undergraduate: Man, isn’t exposing the rampant sexism/racism in America just the worst? what a drag.
Engineer: In America, in the midst of rampant sexism and racism. I just spent two days in an open office environment. These women stared at me constantly and just JUDGED. I could feel it.
Undergrad: I’m confused, are you claiming to be a victim of sexism?
Engineer: I certainly am. Why not? Are you questioning a victim’s testimony?
Wag: You are not a “victim”; You are a “survivor”
Undergrad (to Wag): way to trivialize the various traumas that sexual assault survivors endure on a regular basis. It’s like you playing a game of paintball and calling yourself a war veteran afterwards.
Undergrad: Not at all, I’m sure you felt judged. But let’s take a survey. Who are your coworkers? are you in a male dominated field? you certainly were at MIT. Is your boss male? what about their boss? and, Since we know you live in the US, where the power structure (both in government and on local social levels) is incredibly male dominated, you did not experience sexism. This isn’t to say that the women in your work place made you feel uncomfortable, but while you still exist in a society that favors men over women (which is, again, certainly the case in STEM careers), sexism really ain’t your problem
Engineer: I won’t allow myself to be reduced to a data point to be compared to other data points in a heartless statistical argument. My experience and feelings are valid and incredibly important in and of themselves and it is the society’s full responsibility to ensure that I and men like me don’t ever feel judged again.
Undergrad: Yes, agreed, we should do all we can do ensure we have a safe and comfortable for all. But while you’re getting “judged” which, again, must be rough, Women are being paid less, harassed, and assaulted, all on top of being judged. But until some of these numbers are evened out, I’d say its appropriate to focus on women. NPR article with harassment data: “A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment”
I pointed out that the article betrayed cisgender-normative prejudice by the journalists at the Post. The article was published on May 16 and a May 7 Twitter entry from Tracy Chou was cited along with a comment from “Hayley Anderson” about makeup and jewelry. Although Hayley never says “I identify as a woman,” or refers to him/herself with a female pronoun, Hayley is described as “a woman”. Why assume that someone who wears makeup and jewelry identifies as a “woman”? And even if Hayley identified as a woman on May 7, how do the folks at the Post know that she continued to identify as a woman through May 16?
I also pointed out that the “nudist beach” analogy in the headline was questionable given that a typical nude beach in the U.S., at least, is all-male. I asked “wouldn’t it be a better analogy to compare the open office to South Beach in Miami, for example, where fashionable swimwear is often displayed?”
Here are some ideas for correcting the injustice:
Should women in tech companies all be given private offices while the herd of male nerds is left to toil in an open pit? If it is tough to pay women more, for whatever reason, companies could get them closer to their fair market compensation (higher than a similarly skilled and productive man) by giving them a more comfortable working environment.
Or maybe there could be a separate parking lot, entrance, and floor for employees identifying as female?
(my favorite, due to requirement for advanced tech!) Or workers identifying as female could work in the open office, but workers identifying as male would wear special electronic glasses that turned opaque as soon as a female-identifying employee was in the field of view? If a woman spoke to a man, however, the glasses could (at her option) temporarily go transparent or translucent.
Readers: What do you think?