Gender Communication in the Professional Community
This inquiry essay questions whether men and women communicate effectively, but specifically in the professional world. There are many theorists who express their views on this subject and many views differ. This essay will explore the negative communication between men and women, predominantly, sexual harassment and the positive interactions between men and women in their work environment as well.
The professional space for men and women develops complications because women have recently began to empower themselves through their career aspirations. This poses a possible challenge to a world once completely dominated by men. Corporations adapt to these changes, many by creating policies, such as those against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment exists in the past and present, but its definition still fluctuates. Yet to understand the struggles men and women face communicating, we need to understand the community itself.
Most professional areas look the same. Cubicles replace offices because they consist of cheap material, they take up less space which allows for more employees, and they provide a neutral setting. Many people bring their own character to their work space through pictures, calendars, stuffed animals, radios, etc. Yet for the most part, these cubicles follow cardboard copies of each other with their gray, pin cushion walls and beige filing cabinets. The cubicles form a maze in which only the associates within the work place can make their way around the office without getting lost. If the corporation is large and resides in a building with two floors or more, than it most likely contains these tricky elevators which always seem to break and trap people in the process. Four vending machines reside in the lobby on the first floor, making this area the second most interactive to that of the smoking lounge right outside the back door of the building. Aside from holidays and parties those two areas perpetuate the most informal conversation between co-workers of different gender.
Corporations, such as the one I work in, usually consist of a balanced amount of men and women, although mine particularly employs more women because many positions in the company carry duties more secretarial or clerical in nature. The majority of men in this company have jobs with authoritative positions or move quickly into these positions. For example, a young man named Scott came to the company fresh out of college last year and his boss already placed him in a higher position. Many facts influenced this promotion but the women in the department focused their attention on the fact that he gained a promotion so quickly while many of them felt overlooked. This situation displays a form of miscommunication between genders. The man who promoted the other man chose not to speak with the entire community of associates about the reasoning for Scott’s promotion and the women failed to take the initiative and question him themselves. The corporate arena possibly forgets that men and women likely speak, act, and think differently and these differences may need acknowledgment in order to produce effective communication.
Was this case with Scott and incident of sexual harassment or gender discrimination? Factors that resulted in his promotion remain unknown, but his college degree and the lack of the womens’ degrees who were over looked may give at least one explanation as to why Scott received a promotion so quickly. This fact, unsaid, created a situation of ineffective communication and caused tension in the work community. Yet this case may be perceived as a mild incident of gender miscommunication. Sexual harassment, however, displays a serious gender miscommunication in the professional arena and many critics sustain different views about the definition of sexual harassment, how it evolves, and the communication techniques used to handle harassment situations.
Taking a look at the definition of sexual harassment, the Columbia Encyclopedia defines it as: "involving pressures brought by one in authority (e.g., an employer, teacher, or ranking officer) on someone in an inferior position, with the aim of obtaining sexual favors, harassment is now recognized as also involving behavior that creates an environment unfriendly to its targets." This source represents this as a more stereotypical definition of sexual harassment due possibly to additional issues that constitute a sexual harassing act.
Incidents have occurred over time that cause the definition to fluctuate as described in following from the Columbia Encyclopedia; "Recent debates have centered on, among other things, the apparent wide differences in men's and women's interpretations of sexual talk; on whether schools and colleges can or should impose speech and conduct codes or take other measures to protect students, especially females, from sexual talk or behavior; and on whether pornography is in itself a form of sexual harassment. It is apparent that the interests of protection from sexual harassment and of freedom of speech will continue to clash."
Where does sexual harassment come from? Since it exists as a form of gender communication we can infer that it develops from the difference in communication between men and women. In other words, what women define as offensive speech may differ from what men define as offensive speech. Laura Ring attributes the cause of sexual harassment to "women’s vulnerability to male gender-power" which explains her own definition of sexual harassment as "a constellation of historically produced (and continually re-produced and reformed) discourses which fix gender difference." (133-134).
In other words, sexual harassment forms due to the unbalanced relationship and social interaction between men and women. She further divides the evolution of sexual harassment into social status in which she concludes that women of middle-lower social status or position receive more severe or more frequent incidents of sexual harassment because they are more vulnerable.
In these studies women deal with sexual harassment in two ways. They either use direct language such as "This bothers me, don’t say things like that to me" or indirect language such as "I’m really sorry, but what you are saying makes me really uncomfortable." Which of these forms is more effective and why? Critics say that women tend to use indirect language in order to prevent tension in their work environment, to keep their job, or so that they will not question their own identity.