The “Me too” (“Balance ton porc!” in France) movement has loosened tongues and brought the major issues of sexual harassment and assault into the public debate. It has brought to light the tolerance for sexist behaviour in our society in general and in companies. Faced with sexism in the workplace, companies must go beyond a simple reminder of the law: the company must act.
But let’s face it: the subject is delicate, and few companies want to open a potential Pandora’s box. So how do you go about it?
MAÏEUTYK asked Nathalie BARDOUIL, OPUS Fabrica‘s CEO and initiator of the RECOVR experiment, to share her pedagogical approach on the subject. May this reading be valuable and inspiring to you!
« We can’t even laugh anymore!? »
How often have we heard this sentence when someone was called out for making a sexist joke?
From ordinary sexism to sexual harassment, the spectrum of sexist behaviour is broad, and many of us can be confused and unsure of how to behave.
Some basics to undertsand the situation…
The Conseil Supérieur à l’Égalité Professionnelle entre les Femmes et les Hommes (CSEP) proposes four degrees of sexist conduct:
- The openly hostile sexism
- The masked sexism
- The subtle sexism
- The caring sexism
Caring sexism… This is an oxymoron that corresponds to many situations where the person who acts in a sexist manner is unaware of it and is convinced that they are acting in a caring way. It is easy to understand that this person will not notice that they have hurt the other person. The complexity of the subject is apparent.
We also hear about ordinary sexism, the one that creeps in everywhere, despite us, in an almost generalized unconsciousness (except for those who are very engaged on the subject, perhaps…). Behind this notion, we find :
- Sexist remarks and jokes
- Familiar calls such as “Hello sweetie.”
- Gender-based incivilities
- The pressure to conform to stereotypes
- Fake seduction
- Sexist comments about motherhood and family responsibilities
Enfin, évoquons la différence entre d’une part le sexisme, le harcèlement sexuel et la séduction. Dans la séduction, il y a une position d’égal à égal et surtout de respect mutuel. Par contre, dans le sexisme et le harcèlement, il y a un rapport de domination.
The factors behind sexism
A root cause of sexism lies in the social categorization that precedes the construction of stereotypes.
This socio-cognitive process allows us to apprehend the world around us by organizing social sets to situate ourselves based on commonalities and differences between ourselves and others.
It leads us to internalize stereotypes and prejudices that guide our emotions and behavior.
When it comes to sexism, it’s about gender categories: men and women. What is important are the characteristics defined to classify people into one or the other of these categories.
The internalization of these categories is done very early, from early childhood and is reinforced (or deconstructed 😉 ) throughout life.
Therefore, boys will be qualified as strong, curious, autonomous, while girls will be tender, fragile, generous and sensitive… Each time a child acts in conformity with the characteristics of his gender, they are congratulated and encouraged. But, on the other hand, they are criticized or even punished if they do not conform to his category.
Later on, men will be said to be assertive, competitive, protective and women will be said to be attentive and to listen.
“It is a mistake to believe that only people with bad intentions engage in sexist behaviours. We are all, in turn, witnesses, victims and perpetrators.”
We can smile at these caricatures. We know that there are sensitive men who are no less assertive and women who are competitive and listening. But these stereotypes are deeply rooted in us, despite ourselves. They guide our perception of ourselves and others, our prejudices and our emotions, our analysis of situations and, therefore, ultimately, our behaviour.
And since it is a question of culture and education, we are all concerned.
It is a mistake to believe that only people with bad intentions engage in sexist behaviour. We are all, in turn, witnesses, victims and perpetrators.
As for people who consciously engage in sexist behaviour (and some do!), their actions are reinforced because the group they belong to does not react.
An engaging and positive approach to making a difference.
Behind sexism is the process of social categorization that creates the stereotypes and prejudices that guide our emotions and behaviours.
One of the most challenging things to do in the fight against sexism is to find a positive and engaging approach.
Reminding people of the law and providing the information is essential but insufficient. There are a few success factors to consider:
- Le changement passe nécessairement par une prise de conscience individuelle et collective
- Comprendre et savoir ne suffisent pas à changer
- La culpabilisation et la moralisation n’ont jamais eu d’impact positif
- Change necessarily requires individual and collective awareness
- Understanding and knowledge are not enough to change
- Guilt and moralization have never had a positive impact
To build a positive and impactful approach, our team of psychologists and pedagogues joined forces with a video game studio to propose another path:
EXPERIENCE – FEEL – SHARE – TRANSFORM
by offering a playful immersive learning experience.
The RECOVR Experience takes the player on a progressive journey that challenges emotion, reflection and commitment.
A playful adventure where the player plays as Charlie uncovers sexist acts of all kinds and chooses how to act by becoming aware of the inner emotional struggle generated by the situations.
In the game, Charlie will be a witness, a victim and a perpetrator of sexist acts, allowing the player to live all the situations, to put himself in all the places to experience the situation from several windows.
The first phase of the game is individual and confidential. After that, the game solution includes 32 episodes of 15 minutes each. After that, each employee receives a login and a password and can start playing.
After a few weeks of playing, we bring the employees together in a Coffee-RecovR, during which everyone can share their experience and engage in an open debate. This becomes a collective phase of sharing, anchoring, and transformation. Workshops can include a complementary playful format with a solid socio-pedagogical impact. At this point, we bring in our second partner: a theatre company specialized in Business Theater.
In parallel, the solution offers data that, while preserving the anonymity of individual responses, provides helpful information to identify behaviours that are not perceived as sexist and therefore know on which subjects it is important to return to the workshop and consider other actions complementary to the game.
Why is a leader involved in the fight against sexism?
For me, it’s a story of a woman, a citizen and a business owner.
I’m a woman, a consultant, and have been an entrepreneur since I was 25. I have been confronted on numerous occasions with discrimination because I am a woman, at the beginning of my career or due to my age. Commercial negotiations were like a game of seduction, questioning my legitimacy to occupy this professional position. In my private life, I also faced sexist remarks and attitudes. It was painful and made me angry, but I wouldn’t say I suffered from it.
Education and culture are the sources of gender stereotypes. Growing up in a family where my father and mother treated each other with respect, I was able to internalize a fair model without one dominating the other. My family never explained that being a girl meant I was entitled to one thing and not another. Being the only girl among three boys, I also learned to function with the codes of the other sex. I had an opportunity, and not all women experience the same circumstances.
“Too often, companies call us because tere were serious problems. And yet, it is much better to prevent then to fix.”
Within my company, OPUS Fabrica, we have a center of expertise in psychosocial risk prevention. I have a doctorate in psychology and am a consultant in this field. Through our interventions in companies, we can see the extent of the phenomenon and the seriousness of the consequences. It is impossible to deny the reality of the problem. Too often, companies call us because there are serious problems. And yet, it is much better to prevent than to fix.
As a company manager, we are constantly reflecting on the organizational culture that we want to promote with my management team. To recruit and retain staff, and above all to respect our values, we consider that the fight against all forms of discrimination is fundamental. Therefore, the subject of sexism in the workplace and all other forms of discrimination and violence is a constant concern.
Finally, in the dynamic of our social responsibility, we have the mission to contribute to the evolution of society by making our companies progress.
These are the main reasons for my commitment. Of course, there is still a lot to do, but I remain optimistic and determined because, around me, I see more and more people, both men and women, who are committed to making change happen. This fight is everyone’s fight: it’s about our freedom to say no and to say stop to all these stereotypes that impede our identities.
If you too wish to take positive action, do not hesitate to contact us to find out where your company stands in its fight against discrimination. Then, depending on whether or not there have been critical situations internally, we will build together an approach adapted to your objectives and support you in communicating the process and deploying the solution.
President at OPUS Fabrica – From Tripalium to Opus: Responsible Human Ecology as a new work paradigm.