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Recently we discussed the challenges that women still face in the workplace in our article titled: Subtle Glass Ceiling – Let’s Break It! Today we’re taking a look at the roles that we superimpose upon one another in the workplace. Unknowingly we do cast those who are around us every day in roles that suit our worldview. 

In this article we’re specifically looking at how men see women in the workplace. Often, without realising it, instead of seeing women as their equals, some men find it more comfortable to cast them in roles that fit their experiences.

The roles we impose upon others, and those that we take up ourselves, are fascinating to examine from a psychology-student point of view. However, in understanding the roles that men impose upon women you can subvert those expectations and re-cast yourself in the role that suits your own expectations and ambitions.

Why let yourself and your career be undermined by old stereotypes? Let’s focus on how you can break away from the roles men impose upon women. What do you think? Sound good? Then let’s take a look at the three most common roles that men impose upon women in the workplace.

1. Mother

This is perhaps the most common role that women find themselves saddled with by men at work – one that most easily fits their experience of dealing with a strong woman. Take a moment and think about how we see mothers as we mature. As children we know that they are not to be messed with and should be obeyed, however they’re the first person we go to for comfort. Adolescents want to rebel against mothers and do the exact opposite of what they expect. As adults we know that they love us and want the best for us.

Do you really want any guy at work thinking of you in those terms? Strict and to be obeyed? Well… maybe. To be opposed whenever possible? Definitely not. As unconditionally loving of everything they do? Let me think about that one… no.

2. Sister

Nothing wrong with being friends at work and sometimes a sister can be a best friend, right? A man usually wants to look out for his sister and make sure no harm comes to her. However, seeing himself as a brother may mean he feels entitled to tease you and not take you seriously.

On the other hand, usually a man doesn’t want to be outshone by someone he perceives in the role of sister. If he is bested by a best friend, especially in front of peers at work, he may come to resent it and do what he can to obstruct your future progress. Do you need that additional baggage?

3. Daughter

Ok, so you’re probably thinking, “what harm could possibly come of having a father figure at work?” Well, nothing if all your father figure wants is for you to get all the promotions and accolades you deserve. That’s the more balanced possibility. Alternatively there are two other extremes your father figure might veer towards.

Your father figure could become overly protective and seek to keep you from harm by not letting you develop strong working relationships with anyone else. If he decides you’re the daughter he wants to never let grow up he may think of you as immature and to be humoured but ultimately disregarded. This means he will try to shield you from the embarrassment of failure – he thinks you will endure – by not letting you participate on projects in the first place.

On the other hand you could find your workplace father figure propelling you into high-flying projects and promotions ahead of other more suitable candidates. If you have earned it, fair enough, but if there are others more suitable than you your father figure will be harming your career. Not only will you get the cold shoulder from gossiping colleagues but your vulnerabilities may be revealed in a position for which you are not yet ready.

Workplace Roleplay… Not In A Sexy Way

Break Free of Workplace Roleplay

Ok, we’re taking a leap of faith throughout this entire article and assuming that you don’t want to be cast in the “role” of some random workplace guy’s choosing. How do you shake off that role?

Firstly, not all men are jerks. Not all men have assigned you a role. Many of them will see you as the equal that you are.

Secondly, some men really are seeing you through the filter they have chosen for you, whether they realise it or not. With this knowledge in hand you need to identify which role you think each of your male co-workers has placed upon you.

Once you have reached some conclusions it is time for action. Don’t be afraid to have a quiet word with the colleague in question. You don’t have to confront aggressively to be seen as someone who is not to be trifled with. Calm and rational always shows more authority. Let them know you have noticed how this person treats you. Let him know that you would rather be treated like any other member of the team.

Remember that no one is ever 100% self-aware. Particularly amongst older people, some cling to gender roles throughout their lives. These are habits that are difficult to break. However, break them they must because such attitudes should have no place in a modern workplace. A friendly but firm chat will dispel any illusions about who you are to your colleagues at work.

Can you identify with any of this? Are there any roles that have been cast upon you by men, or anyone, anywhere? Let us know your thoughts in our comments and don’t forget to share this article if you enjoyed it.

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Kris Mulliah

Author Kris Mulliah

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