Sarah is a middle manager in a manufacturing company. One day she fell prey to every woman’s nightmare – she came out of the ladies’ toilets with her skirt tucked into her knickers. As she walked down the corridor, two male colleagues behind her noticed and joked to her about it.
Embarrassed, she hurried away and assumed that would be the end of it. But since then, every time she sees one of them, they make the same joke.
This has been going on for three years. By her own admission, Sarah “doesn’t need counselling”, but she’s fed up with her colleagues’ ribbing. Her heart sinks when she sees them and she finds herself making excuses not to work with them.
In another organisation, Kate came back from a new business meeting to hear that the client had commented to her male colleague who she had attended the meeting with, “Thanks for bringing the eye candy along.”
Both these incidents happened in organisations we have worked with and are typical of what goes on in many UK workplaces on a daily basis; nothing overtly discriminatory, nothing amounting (at this stage) to harassment, but incidents which wear away at confidence and self-esteem.
The defence is so often “it was just a bit of banter,” but what we often find is that these comments don’t happen in isolation - they happen because they have become accepted as the norm and no one is quite sure at what point it starts to become damaging
And it doesn’t just happen to women. In one organisation we worked with, the HR department included two male managers named Chris. One carried a bit of extra weight. He was known as ‘Big Chris’. The other was slight of frame and not very tall. His colleagues called him ‘Little Chris’. Neither liked the names that their peers used to differentiate them. They were a constant reminder of their physical appearance, which both felt very self-conscious about. But neither could quite find a way to ask people to stop, for fear of seeming unnecessarily ‘touchy’.
Perhaps a question we should all ask ourselves is that If you knew you were coming into work to hear the same old joke cracked about you every day – a joke that chipped away at your self-esteem – would you be immune?
Of course, banter can knit teams together; shared experience and humour can go a long way to creating a strong sense of team identity and break barriers down between team members.
But it can also create barriers – in a way which erodes confidence and negatively affects motivation and productivity.
Organisations are making lots of noise about the importance of creating an inclusive workplace; they spend thousands on attracting the best talent. But the reality is that if people feel uncomfortable and excluded at work, they will not give of their best and may even decide to leave.
International Women’s Day on Friday is a great platform to look at the steps all organisation can take to remove barriers to inclusive working - for everyone.
We are delighted that 2 of our facilitators Catherine Hamilton and Heather McIntosh will be shedding more light on this tricky topic with a talk and panel discussion on “Just Banter … or is it?” at the International Women’s Day event organised by Northedge Capital, KPMG and Michael Page on Friday.
And for more information on how we can help organisations create truly inclusive workplaces and manage the inappropriate banter call us on 01903 732 782 or Email us firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us
Stella Chandler and I founded Focal Point on a shared belief that a training course run in isolation doesn't work. We passionately believe there must be support both before and after the training or coaching session itself for it to make a difference. When I am not facilitating sessions with clients or looking at ways to grow the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...