#GuestPost | But Mommy, Where Do The Boys Go?

Dear Mr You-Know-Who,

My nephew asked his mom this one morning as they were driving to school. He’d just heard a radio advertisement for the Take A Girl Child To Work initiative. He was 7 years old at the time.

So, would you mind if I brought a boy child to work some day? I’d really like him to see that women and men can coexist in an environment on equal footing. I guess this could backfire since we know they generally do not. Whether we are referring to pay or expectations about our actions and relative roles – what I’m hoping the boys will get to see is not actually in practice. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Me, you treat like a secretary. For tasks and responsibilities assigned to you, you redirect and ask whether I or my fellow team member can take those notes for you or even consolidate them on your behalf. You use terms like “I’m sure you can come up with something” when wanting something that you’ve already been told isn’t a good fit and/or doesn’t work for the given project or objective.

You use my team members against me, and I have no doubt you’ve used me against them too. (Yup, we’re a team of women!) Throwing us all under the bus for your own personal gain.

And don’t get me started on the use of touch and violating my personal space as a tactic to soften the “no” that you got from me. You reckon your soft charm will be irresistible to me as it (seemingly) has to the women you often date or court.

Me, you cut off mid-sentence because the point I’m making can’t possibly be as good as the one you need to make, in your aggressive and raised voice.

These are not the things that I’d like my beloved nephew to see when he too is taken to work with an adult when he is between 10 and 13 years old. Instead, I’m hoping that he doesn’t end up like you my dear colleague and associate. I’m hoping that instead he will get to see me coexist with you (that was hard to type) in an environment of mutual respect.

He’ll get to see me hold a similar position to you, my male counterpart, where there is a balanced distribution of roles of responsibilities, leveraging each of our individual strengths, and doesn’t draw on normative gender roles.

Yes, that means at some point or another we both have to take notes.

We need to raise our boys like our girls; to condition them to be future leaders, so that can can stand on par with female counterparts without being threatened or just plain shocked about this. We seem to have left the boys behind. In focusing only on girls, we haven’t been showing boys how to work alongside female leaders.

It’s no wonder then that when they get to the workplace they default right back to the normalised gender roles that they have experienced in practice.

In many ways, the Take A Girl Child To Work initiative really worked because it was only one year ago that I realised that not all men consider me as a fitting placement for a particular role. They don’t see me as a worthy equal next to their role, and it has never occurred to me that I am not; that a no from me doesn’t mean as much as a no from some man they perceive as my “boss”.

To this day I have been fortunate enough to work in environments that don’t encourage a boss instilled hierarchy. We are all team members contributing towards a shared vision and purpose, with our varied skillset and knowledge. I’d then like to see a boy go through a similar journey so that he can avoid ending up like you.

Fifteen years from now when my nephew enters the workplace I hope he looks around him and sees as many women in roles like his as possible.

Furthermore, I hope he sees women of all ranks, working with men of all ranks. Sometimes he takes notes and prepares the presentation, and sometimes she does. He feels comfortable asking for her opinion as her knowledge and expertise differs from his, which is why they make such an awesome team. She never feels overlooked or bullied because she is a she, or anticipates a chat with her manager because my nephew undermined her by going to him on something she already relayed to him. He becomes the type of colleague that I had most of my career until I met you.

I have purposefully left out race here as I’m sure I can leave it to your imagination what being a black female then adds to this slow burning fire between you and I.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Yours professionally,

Sibongile Musundwa

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