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A series of comics takes a look at the struggles of being a woman in the workplace.

A satirical look at corporate culture unearths a major problem.

A series of comics takes a look at the struggles of being a woman in the workplace.

It's tough being a woman in the workplace, even (and perhaps especially) if you're the boss.

Reaching the top of the corporate ladder is a tough journey if you're a woman, with less than 5% of S&P 500 companies being led by female CEOs. To make it to the top, it's hard to know whether you're supposed to sit back, "lean in," speak up, or sit out — the world is filled with mixed messages for women in business. Women who do make it to the top face bias when it comes to things like pay and perception. Studies have found that while men in leadership positions are often viewed as "assertive," women with similar traits are "bitchy" or "shrill" or unlikeable.

This conundrum has spawned an entire industry dedicated to telling women what they're doing wrong and how they can subvert corporate culture.


Photo by iStock.

A recent series of comics by Sarah Cooper on her blog The Cooper Review perfectly satirizes the many "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Being Male" type articles found across the internet.

Her post, "9 Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women," has racked up (as of this writing) more than 800,000 views in less than a week, a testament to the cultural nerve it struck. Interestingly, the article took its inspiration from another well-known source of American satire: The Onion.

"I was brainstorming for my next post and came across this headline I'd written down from The Onion: 'Woman Quickly Cycles Through Non-Threatening Voice Inflections Before Expressing Concern,' and from there I thought it would be funny to write a whole post about how women can be less 'threatening' in the workplace," Cooper tells Upworthy in an email, clarifying that "threatening" is in quotes "because I don't think women are threatening in the workplace, but are sometimes perceived that way if we are too direct/honest."

Cooper shared her idea with a small focus group of family and friends, who told her they liked the idea, but it made some of them feel "sad/angry." Her goal was to land in a place that was "just serious enough to feel honest and yet also just silly enough for people to know it's a joke."

"For the record: this is not serious advice!" she says.

The joke is that the "threatening" action is something managers do every day. For example, the first in the series handles how to set a deadline.

All illustrations by Sarah Cooper/The Cooper Review.

Of course, this comic isn't saying that men are actually and in real-life threatened by a woman saying, "This has to be done by Monday." That's a pretty standard thing for a manager to say. And, yet, women are more likely be labeled "unreasonable" for phrasing their request that way.

Many of the illustrations play on the common criticisms women face when it comes to public speaking.

And let's be clear: These criticisms are based on some deeply sexist notions. You'll find a number of posts online (and even here at Upworthy) about things women say that can cause their language to "lose its power," such as apologizing too often, speaking in self-deprecating terms, or appearing too cautious.

What's interesting, however, is that when men do the same thing, it's received in a completely different way. For example, a woman using vocal fry in her speech is often viewed as being unintelligent or unsure. When a man does it, however, it's considered perfectly normal.

The point is that the world is filled with some pretty tricky double standards, and it's on all of us — men, women, and everyone else — to take note.

Asked why she thought her post had gotten so much attention online, Cooper chalks it up to lived experience.

"I think it's the perfect storm of a topic people feel very passionately about (policing how women speak in the workplace) along with the fact that the post has enough truth in it to really resonate, in addition to being a little silly so that it makes people laugh," she says. "So many women (including me) identify with having to change how they talk at work and being frustrated when they get feedback that they're too aggressive, even as men do the same thing and it's just seen as confidence."

What can we do about this? Start by paying closer attention to how you interact with others in the workplace.

Do you react differently when a woman does something than when a man does? Whether it's on the basis of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, or other attributes, we all have our own biases baked into our existence that have been shaped by culture. Most of the time, we're not even aware we have them. These are called "implicit biases," which have been described by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity as follows:

"Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection."

Once you understand what biases you might have (Harvard University has a series of short, and free, tests that can be used as a start), you can begin to address them.

Photo by iStock.

Workplace sexism is — and will continue to be — an issue, but at least people like Sarah Cooper are helping the world have a laugh while highlighting the ongoing struggle.

On Oct. 4, 2016, Cooper's book, "100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings" comes out (and is available for preorder now). She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course, at The Cooper Review.

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One night in 2018, Sheila and Steve Albers took their two youngest sons out to dinner. Their 17-year-old son, John, was in a crabby mood—not an uncommon occurrence for the teen who struggled with mental health issues—so he stayed home.

A half hour later, Sheila's started getting text messages that John wasn't safe. He had posted messages with suicidal ideations on social media and his friends had called the police to check on him. The Albers immediately raced home.

When they got there, they were met with a surreal scene. Their minivan was in the neighbor's yard across the street. John had been shot in the driver's seat six times by a police officer who had arrived to check on him. The officer had fired two shots as the teen slowly backed the van out of the garage, then 11 more after the van spun around backward. But all the officers told the Albers was that John had "passed" and had been shot. They wouldn't find out until the next day who had shot and killed him.

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via Tom Ward / Instagram

Artist Tom Ward has used his incredible illustration techniques to give us some new perspective on modern life through popular Disney characters. "Disney characters are so iconic that I thought transporting them to our modern world could help us see it through new eyes," he told The Metro.

Tom says he wanted to bring to life "the times we live in and communicate topical issues in a relatable way."

In Ward's "Alt Disney" series, Prince Charming and Pinocchio have fallen victim to smart phone addiction. Ariel is living in a polluted ocean, and Simba and Baloo have been abused by humans.

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How we talk about Black Lives Matter protests across America is often a reflection of how we personally feel about the fight for racial equality itself. We're all biased toward our own preferences and a fractured news media hasn't helped things by skewing facts, emphasizing preferred narratives and neglecting important stories, oftentimes out of fear that they might alienate their increasingly partisan and entrenched audiences.

This has been painfully clear in how we report on and talk about the protests themselves. Are they organized by Antifa and angry mobs of BLM renegades hell bent on the destruction of everything wholesome about America? Or, are they entirely peaceful demonstrations in which only the law enforcement officers are the bad actors? The uncomfortable truth is that both extreme narratives ignore key facts. The overwhelming majority of protests have been peaceful.protests have been peaceful. The facts there are clear. And the police have also provoked acts of aggression against peaceful demonstrators, leading to injuries and unnecessary arrests. Yet, there have been glaring exceptions of vandalism, intimidation and violence in cities like Portland, Seattle, and most recently, Louisville. And while some go so far as to quite literally defend looting, that's a view far outside the mainstream of nearly all Americans across various age, racial and cultural demographics.

But what if we step away from the larger philosophical debate and narrow things down to one very important fact: the vast majority of those stirring division at protests are white.

And if you don't believe me, just listen to Durham, North Carolina's mayor and what he had to say about how white people are "hijacking" Breonna Taylor's legacy and transforming a movement that has suddenly split Americans after having near unanimous support just a few months ago.


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