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Pass the Chicken Nuggets


My internship in the financial sector was a complete frat house. On the surface, everything was very professional – fancy ties, shined shoes (a man paid by the company actually came around multiple times a week to shine everyone’s shoes. We’ll leave that story for another day). However, under the façade of uptight corporate suits, these middle-aged professionals often acted like they were in college again. Everyone had nicknames, and if they didn’t have one, they were called by their last name. On Mondays, stories would be exchanged about planking taxicabs over the weekend. And important to this story, almost all of these ‘suits’ were men. In the part of the company I was working in, I was 1 of 2 women. We didn’t have nicknames.

The other interns scattered throughout the company were also predominantly male. The architecture of the office was pretty open, so I couldn’t help but overhear what the male intern in the group next to mine was enduring. 50 McNugget challenge. Hot wings contest. Being sent on foot for miles and miles to pick up the best ribs in the city. The stories are endless. The managers who had male interns would organize these events to have their interns compete. I, along with the other female interns, was never invited. At first I was relieved that I got to peacefully sit at my desk and focus on my Excel spreadsheet instead of being treated like a fraternity pledge member. But gradually, and ironically, I became a bit annoyed at just how well I was being treated. My boss would make remarks to me with the general sentiment of you’re lucky I’m so nice to you, and the underlying implication of these sentiments was you’re lucky that you’re a girl, and that’s why I’m so nice to you.

When a new male hire just out of college was brought into my group, it affirmed the fact that I was being treated as I was because I’m female. Immediately, he was given the nickname of Doogie Howser. He was taunted endlessly and charged with doing ridiculous tasks. He wasn’t even an intern, yet he was being treated like he had to earn his keep, and I was being treated like even the slightest joke or insult would send me crying to HR. Profanities were often exchanged, and my colleagues would stop mid-sentence after noticing that I was in their presence and tell me to put on my “earmuffs.” As if I had never heard any of these words before. As if I was a child.

I am not fragile, yet I was perceived and assumed to be. There is no doubt that women have gained a lot of ground in the workplace, but I think we are still a long way away from being on an equal playing field as men. It is almost like there is a segregation of experience for men and women in the corporate world. Strangely, I felt disrespected by being overly respected. My boss was constantly reaffirming that I was doing a good job and saying thank you to me for work that had Doogie Howser done it, my boss would have no question found something wrong about it just for the sake of calling him out.

It may sound absurd, but I just wanted to be treated how all the other interns were treated. I say – pass me the chicken nuggets. Maybe I couldn’t have eaten all 50 of them, but I would have been given an equal opportunity to at least try. By treating me better, I was viewed differently than the male interns. As if just because I have estrogen, I am weaker and less suited for the fraternity atmosphere they created.

What’s also important to note about all of this is that most of their actions were subconscious. I don’t think that my co-workers actively thought – oh, she’s a girl, she couldn’t possibly do a chicken nugget challenge. I think this is evidence of the fact that generalized views about the distinctions between men and women are so deeply engrained, that individuals don’t even contemplate questioning them. It was inherent that my boss treated me with so much respect – and this is where the problem lies.

One final story to wrap it up. My mother’s company recently hired a new CEO; their first female CEO in history. All of the top level executives met to discuss how they were going to welcome her on her first day. They decided on flowers, and they argued for way too long about just what type of flowers and where the flowers should be placed in her new office. It was only my mother, the only woman in the meeting, who brought up the point that had a male CEO been hired, their banter about flowers would never have occurred in the first place.

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Discussion

6 thoughts on “Pass the Chicken Nuggets

  1. This is a great representation of how the gender differences in our world impact how we treat one another. I have heard many similar stories as what you have recounted, and I have realized that this type of behavior tends to be prevalent on financial trading floors. Such a problem stems from the years of culture that are ingrained in this type of business, a similar culture that used to characterize advertisement agencies. I feel for your experience and many other individuals who have been exposed to such gender bias, and I cannot help but blame upper management for these types of mental lapses. It is management’s position to instill beliefs in their employees, and obviously the belief of gender equality has been forgotten here. In my post, I discuss the importance we must have in judging one another based on who we are as individuals, but I believe your discussion shows where such a lofty goal falls short. When one is within a group, it is much harder for them to identify with their personal principles, thus they most likely fall in line and treat you according to the group’s belief of “how a woman should be treated.” Therefore, management should make amends attempting to hold each individual accountable for treating each gender as the other is treated in all regards.

    Posted by Derek | February 28, 2012, 8:17 pm
  2. I agree with Derek in that this seems to be a management issue. It’s unfortunate that this was your experience and I think that it can be attributed to the environment on which the firm was founded. For instance, I know a few firms harp on the collaborative environment and in fact harp on the number of female employees. Although these firms seem to be few and far between, they do exist and I’m confident this type of environment will continue to expand. Management is solely responsible for upholding the image of their particular brand or firm and in this aspect it seems they have severely failed. Its unfortunate that some firms operate on such poor management.

    Posted by Patrick | February 28, 2012, 8:42 pm
  3. I think it’s interesting that this occurred in the finance industry. I’m not surprised, because as Derek said, finance was once dominated by men. I feel like the industry definitelty matters when talking about gender, and this is not to say that it should. But with finance especially, there’s just more men and have historically always been more men. WIth other professional service industries, I’m interested to know if the dynamic is different. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if there was a room full of middle aged men in any industry that did some of the same things you talked about. It’s not right, and I agree that there are currently different ways of treating males and females in the workplace.

    Posted by Ben K. | February 28, 2012, 10:28 pm
  4. Derek and Patrick – I couldn’t agree with you more that this problem stems from management. As we learned from cases such as Enron, the corporate culture is often born from the very top of the organization and everyone else just does what they can in order to conform. It is definitely telling that the management of the organization I worked for was predominantly, and possibly exclusively, male. I was even surprised when we had a field trip of sorts with the entire intern class that was accompanied by the HR department. Some of the male interns brought the “hazing” activities they were undergoing to the attention of the HR department that came with us on the trip. Instead of expressing concern, they simply commiserated with them on the fact that certain departments do this sort of initiation activities with their interns every year. Even the human resource department, who is charged with facilitating a positive and equal work environment, was conforming to this behavior simply because that is how it’s been for a period of time.

    Posted by Beth O'Brien | February 29, 2012, 1:08 am
  5. Beth, what really struck a chord with me in your blog post was when you said “it may sound absurd, but I just wanted to be treated as the other interns were treated.” At the end of the day, while you recognized the respect the men gave you, it was almost like by respecting you they weren’t respecting you, if that makes sense. By separating themselves so much from you in the way they acted and treated one another, the men, maybe without knowing, made you feel like you didn’t belong. I think most of us can agree that all we really want is to fit in. Nevertheless, you should be proud of yourself for holding your head high throughout this internship. That takes courage.

    Posted by Jenna | February 29, 2012, 11:51 am

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