Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fun Impinging on Women's Work

The 9/17 issue of the Weekly Standard includes a diatribe by Matt Labash against corporate cultures incorporating Dilbert-esque enforced "fun." It's a length read (I printed it and took it on the subway) but among Labash's sarcasm and vitriol, I found some oblique references to women in the workplace that I think are worth noting.

The first is obvious sexism: Labash visits a "Funsultant" business (note: a "funsultant" is one who consults to bring "fun" to the office), and meets with the firm's Marketing Maven (her actual title) Jayla Boire. His discription of her follows:

I met one of their four principal partners for dinner--Jayla Boire. Her title is Marketing Maven (nobody in the company has a traditional title). She looks like a Marketing Maven too. She is bouncy, perky, tall, and blonde, with sculpted tan legs that start just above her ankles and end right below her clavicle. I wouldn't call them sexy--HR wouldn't approve--but they're fun to look at.

Very professional. I wonder if Boire has read this piece and knows that in addition to making fun of her work, Labash is also pasting her into the article as a piece of tasty meat. When he introduces her male colleagues, there is no description of them outside of their work. Sexism at its best in journalism.

The other part that really caught my eye was how, in creating a "Fun Department" at AstraZeneca--at the expense of women's ability to pump breast milk at work:

Dave later tells me that at AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company, the Fun Department has even taken over the company's seldom-used lactation room, dressed it up as a doctor's office complete with a doctor character and a gum-cracking assistant, and wrote "prescriptions to play" while treating people "for terminal seriousness."

I wonder how women at AstraZeneca now store breast milk while on the job. Obviously, the corporate need to inject fun into the work culture overrides a nursing mother's need to pump milk. I'd bet my life this was a decision made by a man.

If you check my booklist, you know I've been reading Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men--And What to Do About It by Evelyn Murphy. The book spends a lot of time outlining the conditions and discriminations women face and how it affects their paychecks. I can see this one fitting right into the book. A woman needs to pump breast milk, the provided facility is taken away, she is told she can't do it at her desk and no other space is provided, and she ends up either in pain from blocked milk ducts or quitting so she can actually nurse. Really, if you're a woman in the working world, you should read this book. The descriptions of working conditions that cause women to quit and lose pay-benefiting positions/seniority makes my blood boil.

It's enough to make a working woman scream.

4 responses:

WorkingDefinition said...

I think that women want to have their cake and eat it too most of the time. They demand to be treated equally in regards to certain things but want to receive special treatment regarding other matters. This is not a critique of you, but just what I have noticed.

KEHutchinson said...

I'm not sure I agree with this "have your cake and eat it too," business. If you look at working women, the moment they have children, they are considered "employment risks," whereas men who have children are considered "good family men."

In terms of the lactation room: Lately there's been a lot of coverage over where women can lactate (pump breast milk). Most people (usually men) don't want to see women doing that at their desks. It's important to give women space to do that. Don't suggest a bathroom: try hooking your nipple to a heavy, bulky pump while sitting on a lid-less toilet in a cramped stall. If you give women appropriate space, they can pump milk, read memos at the same time or something, and still be functioning at work. Men don't have a need for a lactation room, and I think having a place where they can lactate comfortably is equal to giving a man a comfort in his desk chair.

Jules Bergman said...

I work for the company listed in your post and consider Jayla a dear friend. So, being that I am incrediby well-informed on this particular topic and resulting situation, let me address a few things in your post.

First, Jayla did read the article. All the partners did. I don't think Mr. Labash was making fun...I'm pretty sure he was making use of some marketing materials given him by our Maven.

Unfortunately, as the piece was not a 'pay for play' item, we had zero control over editorial issues and content. You sound as if Jayla should be up in arms about the matter when in reality, what would that accomplish? Certainly she was not thrilled to be singled out in that particular fashion - and you are correct in stating that if one partner's physical attributes were alluded to they all should have gotten play - but this is a very small fire in light of the conflagration women usually face in business.

Also, I was at Astra Zeneca that particular day (as the gum-cracking character) and I am pleased to inform you that the lactation room is a well-stocked, restful, conveniently located room. Most importantly, it was only utilized for 'fun' that single day. For about 2 hours. It was not "taken away" from lactating women forever.

I hope you'll take the time to visit the Fun Department website ( to find out what we REALLY offer for corporate America because quite frankly, there's no Dilbert-esque-ness involved and having fun is never, ever forced on anyone. I promise.

KEHutchinson said...

Hi Julie,

Thanks for sharing the view from the other side, I appreciate it.

I'm glad to know that the lactation room is still available; it was not clear that this was the case in the article.

As for the treatment of your friend and co-worker, personally, I feel it is in everyone's best interest to say that it is sexist and unfair to single out a woman for her looks in this way. If no one says anything, writers like this one will continue to do it and think it's fine.

(C) 2007 - 2009 Kate Hutchinson. All rights reserved.

All opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the author.