As I’m sure most of you already know, transgender Olympic athlete and reality star Bruce Jenner revealed himself this week on the cover of Vanity Fair as his true self Caitlyn Jenner. While I am no expert and am in no position to comment on transgender struggles, I will say that I wish her well and hope she finds peace in her new public role as a woman.
However, all this public scrutiny and discussion over gender and the role it plays in who you are, how you define yourself, and how you live your life got me thinking.
Does Cait really know what she’s gotten herself into?
As a woman in a traditionally male dominated field (think Sherlock Holmes) I am continually reminded that I have a different set of rules in the same game. Yes this is sexual discrimination, and yes it is illegal, but I know from both client and personal experience it is very hard to prove, and even harder to stop.
The law prohibits sexual discrimination. It is explicit and even mentions transgender.
“Discrimination against an individual because that person is transgender is discrimination because of sex in violation of Title VII. This is also known as gender identity discrimination. In addition, lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals may bring sex discrimination claims. These may include, for example, allegations of sexual harassment or other kinds of sex discrimination, such as adverse actions taken because of the person’s non-conformance with sex-stereotypes.” (USEEOC)
I am going to bet that the men who wrote this law were very proud of themselves for addressing this issue head on. But let’s face it, if the law were enough I wouldn’t be so busy!
Maybe its because it’s so hard to prove. While case after case of women being passed over for promotions, unfair firing, pay discrepancies, and unfair job assignments comes across my desk, it is very difficult to find consistent proof to support these claims. One woman promoted in the same company becomes defense, or a single poor review gives support to a demotion or firing.
And each time I uncover a true case of discrimination I am astounded that this still goes on! Recently it became very personal for me. I was investigating suspected age discrimination at a club. I applied in person as a 40-year old woman with lots of experience in the industry. My much younger colleague applied with absolutely no experience. They didn’t even give me a second interview and hired her on the spot! Turning 40 was hard enough, and now this?
So how do we make real change in discrimination practices?
Laws are not enough.
Fighting it case by case is not enough.
Even today, in many ways we are still women in a man’s world.
It’s an underlying current that we are all too used to. Every time I walk into a new client meeting I redefine their image of a private investigator. I work to be taken seriously; sometimes I have to work twice as hard as my male counterparts. I consider every detail, from how I dress, to how I speak, to how I present results. Nothing goes unnoticed, and because of that, no detail is left to chance.
I will admit, there are times my gender works to my advantage. Many people are less concerned about a woman following them, so I can really kill it on surveillance! I also find a woman is considered less threatening and more approachable to come to with delicate cases.
Do I feel guilty about using feminine stereotypes to my advantage? Hell no!
As I’ve said, there is plenty to contend with being a woman in the workforce, and added challenges in a male dominated field. While I wish I didn’t have to play this game and everyone was treated equally, we are not there yet. Between now and then I have a job to do, and I plan to do it to the best of my abilities.
So again, how do we make real change?
Laws only set the framework. A true change in behavior has to come from a shift in our beliefs. Like any real change it takes time and comes in tiny steps with significant change only recognized in hindsight. I think the acceptance of Cait Jenner is a step we should celebrate.