Genuine Work Relationships Versus Social Bias


By Chally Kacelnik

Some years ago, I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself, I was standing in a meeting room having a quiet chat with a colleague. We’d just flown interstate to undertake some work for a client. I had identified and championed the opportunity, designed our approach, and written the proposal, and I was excited for the project team to undertake what I thought was a thoughtful and thorough approach that would benefit the client organisation. One of the senior leaders of the organisation walked up to my colleague and me, ignored me, and proceeded to congratulate my colleague on “your excellent proposal”. I was a woman in my mid-twenties, and my colleague was an older man.

I’ve had this kind of thing (misogyny! ageism!) time and again, of course – the blokes who insisted on kissing me on the cheek when I held out a hand, the bloke who said “hello gentlemen” and ignored me when I was the only woman in the room, and so forth. It’s gotten better as I’ve aged, and I’m sure I’ll end up being another kind of invisible eventually. But the rage doesn’t go away.

Some people unthinkingly make transparent assumptions about who is worth speaking to and who does the meaty work. Experiences like this have honed my sense for when this poor behaviour is directed towards others, and it’s made me more inclusive and curious about what others have to offer. It’s also made me aware that I’m likely to mess up myself and not realise it, and proceed accordingly.

Stop and think about the richness of experience and ideas and you’re losing when some people are less real to you than others, not to mention your own integrity. Watch out for others at work who are on the losing end of this. And think about how to build genuine, inclusive, curious relationships at work.

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