Speaking truth to patriarchal power in the workplace.

When is a staff meeting not a staff meeting? When it turns into a platform for management to simply present their news, their ideas, policies, ‘successes’ and works in progress to a passive audience.

When staff are too scared, or too intimidated by extremely poorly managed restructures and amalgamations and dare not open their mouths in public forums, that’s when you know it’s not a real staff meeting.

When staff are no longer able to question, to query, to contradict or to simply state that they’re overworked and that management should not impose impossible work demands, that’s when you know it’s not a staff meeting anymore.

When the staff who are left are those who desperately rely on a regular pay cheque because they have children, mortgages and rent to pay and may be the only breadwinner in the household and are frightened that they may be marginalised or reprimanded for speaking their views, that’s when you know it’s not a staff meeting.

Just because all the chairs are placed in a circle implying that we’re all on equal ground, this doesn’t make it a staff meeting.

Just because there’s no formal paperwork in the form of a written agenda, giving the impression of informality doesn’t mean that there isn’t an implicit agenda at work. And it’s still not a staff meeting.

Just because there’s a morning tea afterwards with rostered staff having to provide food and drink, in a poor imitation of breaking bread together, it’s still not a staff meeting.

When the only people presenting any items for discussion are the managers, and when asked, “Does anyone want to add anything?” or “Does anyone have anything they want to say?” and you can cut the air with a knife as absolutely no one responds, no one even makes eye contact, you know it’s not a staff meeting. Staff are then reprimanded for not participating in ‘voluntary’ surveys of workplace policies and practices. How can we understand the workplace lament the managers, if we don’t know what people think? This should be evident to managers from the non-response rate, but there’s just no telling people, now is there?

And when a brave solo voice in the wilderness, aka an unhappy female staff member seeks support in her work following two years of workplace struggle shared by everyone is told essentially to “suck it up”, you known that’s not a staff meeting. And my own voice, cut off as I sanitise this post for fear of reprisals is another casualty of poor workplace communications and management. And this is still not a staff meeting.

I’m not going next time, I’m just going to read the email.

These forums should be renamed, “Meet the workers” or “News from the CEO’s desk” or “How to break morale by undermining mid-level professional women at work” or “Policy: the CEOs mandate” It would have been far more instructive to watch reruns of the IT Crowd. At least their management style was amusing.

‘Culture at work’ is the new buzz phrase with human resources and management consultants wanting to own this terrain. They want to define it, to own it, to show you how to modify and change it. They think that they know about this stuff, but we’ve had consultants come and go and we still have a workplace culture, but perhaps not the intended culture imagined by the consultants and management. And it’s clear to see that the culture of this workplace is toxic, where management govern through fear. No one wants to contribute, no one wants to offer an opinion, and anyone who does offer up a view or contradicts the dominant discourse is made an example of.

There is a management culture here that sets itself up as transformational, as being part of progress, of positive change. They hope to usher in a revolution in business practice, in management and in the business of the company itself. But they have failed to ignite the workplace. Most of them have no idea about the business of the company. Few of them have worked at the coalface and are therefore seen as illegitimate in running the company. This is most clearly evident at the staff meetings, where staff are left to wonder if management really know anything at all except how to balance budgets and construct flow charts.

Whatever these meetings purport to be, they are NOT staff meetings. Yes, they are a group of staff who meet, but that’s where the similarity ends. Any implication of staff contributing, except as an afterthought, only in response, only to question, or ask and never as setting the agenda indicates that the process has been set up as one-way communication. Any real suffering can you please leave that at the door as you come in?

And when you sit back and observe what’s going on, you begin to see patterns. It’s the same men who have a go at the women who bravely put up their hands to comment, or to propose an alternate view. And it’s the same men that scurry into these women’s’ offices afterwards to apologise, of course privately apologise after publicly humiliating them. And they always hang their heads in shame and apologise for this behaviour. But then they do it again. They darken women’s doors after meetings just to check the emotional temperature and see if they’ve committed a professional offence again. And it’s the same management structures that support these men because these men provide legitimacy for the work of management, these men provide the police work in hunting out the outspoken women who dare to voice an opinion, who dare to challenge the prevailing views of management, arresting them through public confrontation.

Have I made a contribution through this post to feminist understandings and experiences of the workplace? Is this too a part of what’s known as the glass ceiling? Maybe the glass podium? The glass lectern? The glass microphone? Perhaps not, but it still harks to the construction of women as fragile, as illegitimate in voicing their views and that’s even outspoken women who sometimes draw out the worst in men who oppose and are threatened by them.

And last of all, this example of meetings serves to remind us that it’s a rallying call for all women to speak truth to the power of those men who seek to shatter women’s voices in the workplace.

Photo credit: http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/wiredscience/2011/09/voice.jpg

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