A Primer on Gender Friendly Conference & Event Swag

Back in the day I worked for an organization that was quite keen on holding team retreats. These were off-site business affairs held at a somewhat centrally located resort or venue that could accommodate business meetings, dinners and frivolity for 100 or so managers for several days. Spouses/partners (SPs) were invited as well and, in a gesture of goodwill, the company arranged outings and activities for the SPs during the day while the staffers were locked up doing humdrum SWOT analyses and strategy stuff.

Several weeks before the gathering an itinerary of the available outings was sent out so that the SPs could sign up for their preferred activities; among the offerings were things like golf, shopping excursions, horseback riding, a day at the spa, cooking classes, and canoe trips. Now, people being what people are, there was a general guesstimate by the organizers up at the corporate office that the female SPs would sign up for cooking classes, spa trips and a visit to the local shopping district while the male SPs, naturally, would want to play golf, hop on an outrigger, and scale the nearest mountain while doing very very manly things like posing with the wild animals they caught. Or something.

One year however I got a phone call from a very perplexed administrative assistant/planning person at the corporate office who wanted to see if I could check with a few of the managers from my region to ascertain if, in fact, the female SP (of one manager) really wanted to go hiking and the male SP (of another manager) truly meant to sign up for the day at the spa.

A thing of the past…..right? Well, not quite.

Yesterday a friend of mine attended a seminar for organizational leaders (primarily Finance and HR) and was the lucky winner of a door prize/raffle called “The Executive Bag.” As she described it (see picture above)…”turns out the event sponsor thinks executives are 2XL males who like to golf.” (oh…and “The Executive Bag” contained two (2!) wine bottle openers with no wine………….#SuperSad).

Now I know it’s often a thankless task being the person responsible for ordering booth swag or assembling raffle prizes for a corporate or community shindig. Many a work relationship has blown up when one event organizer screamed at another in a planning session “Well if you’re so smart Betsy then you tell me exactly how many L vs. XL t-shirts we should order!”  

But this? How tone-deaf to think that a prize like this would go over at a leadership seminar with just as many females as males in attendance. Is it that only the men are truly ‘executives?’ Did the vendor/sponsor also have a designated “Lady Executive Bag” that held nail polish, a box of tampons, and a hair dryer?

One of the last bastions where this stereotyping exists is HR conference land. I’ve also witnessed it at payroll, education and healthcare conferences; three additional professions that tend to skew female.  Sadly the time-worn cliché of “Give Away a Coach Bag to Get the HR Gals to Visit Your Booth” is a cliché for a reason; over the years I’ve witnessed hordes of female conference attendees in orgasmic frenzy as they dropped their business cards in fish bowls.

I’ll admit I’m not, personally, a gatherer of swag; I keep things pretty minimalist at home and certainly don’t need to cart home loads of crap from a conference that will only clutter up my desk or closet or bookshelves. I’m not an idiot though so if someone wants to give me a new iPhone or some other fancy gizmo at a conference I’m all about taking home the booty.

But if you try to get my business by playing up dated gender stereotypes…keep the bag.

I don’t want it.

 

 

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Women at Work – 1960

IBM_403_Accounting_MachineThe Sixties.

The Beatles arrived in the USA and I arrived on the planet (thanks Mom and Dad!).

Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique (1963), physicist Maria Goepper-Mayer won a Nobel Prize (1963), The National Organization for Women was founded (1966), and Yale and Princeton began to accept female students (1969).

Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which prohibited wage differentials based on sex which begat (HR alert!) Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (477 U.S. 57 (1986) when the US Supreme Court recognized that certain forms of sexual harassment could be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VII.

#Think

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Women at Work – 1940

woman-at-work-guide1943 to be precise.

What follows is an excerpt from the July 1943 issue of Transportation Magazine; written for male supervisors of women during World War II.

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Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees

There’s no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage. Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from western properties:

1. If you can get them, pick young married women. They have these advantages, according to the reports of western companies: they usually have more of a sense of responsibility than do their unmarried sisters; they’re less likely to be flirtatious; as a rule, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it — maybe a sick husband or one who’s in the army; they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Most transportation companies have found that older women who have never contacted the public, have a hard time adapting themselves, are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It’s always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. While there are exceptions, of course, to this rule, general experience indicates that “husky” girls— those who are just a little on the heavy side — are likely to be more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination — one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit but also reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job. Transit companies that follow this practice report a surprising number of women turned down for nervous disorders.

5. In breaking in women who haven’t previously done outside work, stress at the outset the importance of time — the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employe in garage or office a definite day-long schedule of duties so that she’ll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employe change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be nervous and they’re happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. Companies that are already using large numbers of women stress the fact that you have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and consequently is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful in issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can’t shrug off harsh words the way that men do. Never ridicule a woman — it breaks her spirit and cuts her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl’s husband or father may swear vociferously, she’ll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operator uniforms that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too strongly as a means of keeping women happy, according to western properties.

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note: I realize this has circulated on the interwebz for a number of years now, but I still find it fascinating.

 

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Women at Work – 1920

1925_Accounting_Office_BrooklynThe Nineteenth (XIX) Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th US state to ratify and thus provide the final vote to amend the US Constitution. The amendment had been passed by the US House of Representatives on May 21, 1919 and, as we were reminded in HRC’s speech the other night, was passed by the US Senate on June 4, 1919.

In 1921, the Sheppard-Towner Act (officially known as the Promotion of the Welfare and Hygiene of Maternity and Infancy Act) which provided federal funding for prenatal care and education and included the creation of women and children’s health clinics, passed Congress and was signed by President Warren G. Harding. Somewhat appropro, since, as we now know, old Warren G. fathered a daughter with Nan Britton who was not, as you might surmise, Mrs. Harding.

Times were changing.

Then during the 20’s female employment began to rise especially, of course, for single women. Common occupations for the ladies included typist, filing clerk, stenographer, social worker. nurse, teacher and librarian. But, at the same time, women more frequently filled the creative ranks as artists, singers, actors and designers; women like Martha Graham, Coco Chanel, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker. (dang…I always thought Dorothy Parker was the bee’s knees).

Of course, we still had this kind of thinking….

“I pay our women well so they can dress attractively and get married.” – Henry Ford

Much still to be done.

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image: Early Office Museum

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Women at Work – 1900


sewing“In 1900, only 6 percent of married women worked outside the home, usually when their blue-collar husbands were unemployed. Among wives with children at home, very few worked at all. Almost half of single women held jobs, but they usually stopped working when they married or, at the latest, when they got pregnant, and most never worked for pay again. About a third of widowed and divorced women worked, typically out of economic necessity. Never-married women with children were virtually unknown.”

“In 1900, three out of four working women were engaged in domestic service, farming, or factory work, particularly in the nation’s textile mills and shoe factories. A third of working women were domestic servants. Teaching and nursing were the only professions generally open to women; female managers and officials were rare.” 

The First Measured Century – PBS

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 image: Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies

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