There are two things that my wife watches religiously; election coverage and the Olympics. She has passed these on to me and so I just spent a couple of weeks in August watching athletes from across the world compete in sports I understand entirely as well as sports that I have (or at least HAD) no idea about (see Rugby Sevens). Now I love the sports themselves. I’ve played and watched sports my whole life and the Olympics is no exception. But this year, I was absolutely shocked at the level of sexism that existed in the coverage of the athletes and events; enter Corey Cogdell.
Corey Cogdell is an American woman who has won two Olympic bronze medals in shooting. Now, there are those that don’t believe that shooting should be an Olympic sport but let’s bypass that conversation for just a second and since it is, just get into the much more important part of the conversation. This year, when Cogdell won her second Olympic bronze medal, the Chicago Tribune wrote a big article about her win. The headline read, “Wife of a Bear’s lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics”.
You see, Corey Cogdell, along with being one of the most successful professional shooters in the entire United States of America, is married to a relatively average performing football player that happens to play for the Chicago Bears. Her husband, Mitch Unrein is a professional football player. Now The Tribune would probably have never paid attention to a woman from Alaska winning a bronze medal in a sport that very few people follow if she weren’t married to a professional football player. But once you’ve decided that you’re going to write an article about a woman based on her exploits, the article should be about her exploits, not that she “snagged an athlete with a high six-figure salary.” The internet, very appropriately, was displeased.
This was just one in a string of very poorly covered events featuring women at the Rio Olympics. When Katie Ledecky set a world record on her way to a gold medal, her name appeared in a significantly smaller font under the headline that Michael Phelps had won a bronze medal. Now, Phelps win was important as it pushed him closer to the record for individual medals in an Olympic career. But still, you get the point. And it continued.
When Andy Murray was asked by a reporter what it felt like to be the first person in Olympic history to win two gold medals in tennis, he reminded the reporter that each of the Williams’ sisters had won 4 Olympic gold medals. And I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with my job?
Well, I’d like you to think about the way you treat women clients. Do you treat them with the same respect that you treat male clients? Do you wonder if they have the authority to make decisions? Do you wonder what their husband does? Almost every woman I know has been asked what their husband does for a living but it’s a question posed far less commonly to men. Assumptions are made.
I was speaking to a friend at a parent’s playgroup about the fact that her and her husband were moving to Ottawa. I visit Ottawa at least once a year when I go see my best friend for a Super Bowl party. I asked if her husband was into football and if he’d like to come to the party next year. I came home and told my wife about the fact that he might be coming to our party and she asked me if I’d asked his wife if she liked football or if she’d like to come to the party. I realized that I had not and I realized that while I consider myself to be a reasonably forward thinking man, I have a lot to learn.
If you’re a man, think about the times you’ve witnessed women you work with treated differently, excluded from conversations or even projects or assignments simply because they were of the opposite sex. You can pick out several times, can’t you? And if you’re a woman, I’m sincerely sorry. I know that you’re entirely aware of how this works.
Start doing things differently. Right now. Treat people based on their abilities and their work ethic. Make up your mind about people based on what they do, not what they were born with.