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Does L&D have a gender problem?

If you have 45 seconds, take this brief quiz and let me know if you think there's a problem in our industry.

Men and Women

The answer is unequivocally yes.   

With all of the attention that Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. have been getting recently, I asked a colleague if she felt there were issues in our industry. She thought for a moment and said: “There could be. Sometimes someone says something to me and I’m not sure if it’s my gender or because I’m still relatively new in the field. And then something else is said and I’m not sure if it’s my gender or if it’s because I shouldn’t have spoken so forcefully in a meeting.”

So I reached out to several other female colleagues and they said:

  • “I’ve had comments on session evaluations that said my breasts were distracting. (Do they sing and dance when I’m not watching?)”
  • “When I’m out training in a military establishment or an industry with lots of retired military, or even the manufacturing sector, I believe I have to work harder [than a man] to earn trust and credibility.”
  • “I’ve been told I should look more professional and buttoned up. I work in tech. Everyone wears jeans and tshirts. I don’t know if they’re saying this because I’m a woman, but I’ve never heard another guy say that he’s been asked to be more ‘buttoned up’.”
  • “When I was presenting my first big L&D project to the only male stakeholder, he’d only look at my male boss when communicating and sharing feedback.”
  • “You have no idea how many people I asked regarding my new headshot. Men hit on me via LinkedIn messaging.”
  • “I was in a table group discussion on the topic of motivation in instructional design at a large L&D conference recently and the only male in the group said: ‘If the motivation is based on your emotion and your audience is male, then you’ll lose all of them. If the motivation is based in logic, you’ll lose all the females.’ When a woman participant asked if he was serious, he doubled down, saying: ‘Men respond to logic, not emotions. Women won’t respond to logic, just emotions.'”

When I spoke to some of these colleagues, a common theme emerged from their stories. While some things were overt, there were many other things that come up in their daily routine – not being included in meetings or informal conversations with their male colleagues, getting feedback about how they came off “too strong” during a meeting – which they said might be attributed to other things, or perhaps these things happened because they were women.

As a man, I’ve never, ever wondered if I wasn’t included in a group because of my gender. I’ve never, ever wondered if someone wasn’t making eye contact with me or talking with me in a meeting because I’m a guy. And that is the very definition of male privilege. A collection of unearned advantages that I hold over my female colleagues in the learning and development field.

I was introduced to the concept of “privilege” a number of years ago with Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 article entitled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack that includes a series of questions that help identify aspects of white privilege. In other words, Ms. McIntosh’s article and questions were around privilege along racial/ethnic lines.

Based upon my very limited research into the matter (“research” is a stretch, more based upon anecdotal evidence from a variety of female colleagues working in a variety of organizations and from a variety of career stages), I’d like to offer my own set of questions here. It’s a rough list. I’m going to work on refining it. For now, I invite you to take a look and if you have a minute or two, go ahead and complete it. (Download Male Privilege in the Learning Development Sector if you want to print it out.)

Male Privilege in the Sector

If you took the time to fill out this little questionnaire, I’d appreciate if you would use the comment section to share your gender and how many items you were able to check off. I’m curious to know if there’s a difference between male and female respondents.

(In case you’re wondering, I’m a male and I was able to check off every statement as being true for me.)


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