It’s quite interesting to see the large spectrum of opinions there is on the Web about chivalry in the workplace. I’m talking about men opening doors for women, letting them exit the room first, men waiting for women to get off the elevator first, and so on.
But before I give you an idea of the 2 extremes of the spectrum, I will first tell you that my opinion is located somewhere in the middle.
Excerpts from 2 opposite views
- Based on a study that suggests chivalry could indicate hidden sexism, an article from the Telegraph reports this:
“Men who demonstrate ‘well intentioned’ sexism are said to see women as warm and pure yet helpless and incompetent”…”Unless sexism is understood as having both hostile and benevolent properties, the insidious nature of benevolent sexism will continue to be one of the driving forces behind gender inequality in our society.“
- An article from Dr. Ollie Anderson found on LinkedIn takes this position:
“So, men … put chivalry back to work. Demonstrate your courage by caring for a woman. Show that not only is chivalry not dead, but it’s reentering the work force!“
MY POSITION ON CHIVALRY IN THE WORKPLACE
Based on Experience
My own experience with chivalry in the workplace shows me it is not so alive. And I’ve been working in a men-dominated field for a good part of my career. Some men do it naturally, some don’t. But it is generally limited to gestures like holding a door for me or letting me get out of the elevator first.
I think this behavior is mainly a generation factor and is linked to the education men received. I seem to notice that the younger generation of men (25-35) in my building will not be as likely to let a woman get off the elevator first if the woman is standing behind them (and that is fine by me). They grew up in a society where women were working in a wide range of positions (police, engineer, lawyer, doctor, etc.) and so were raised on a more equal basis than previous generations.
Even though we are many to agree there is still much work to be done to allow women to reach corporations’ top jobs, I don’t believe chivalry is a problem per say. There is a good chance that chivalry will slowly disappear as generations pass.
Chivalry and Sexism
So a study suggests some of these nice gentlemen in the workplace are in fact sexist. Maybe that can be true for some. But these men’s true personality will then be decoded by women through other sexist behaviors.
I have had (and still have) men colleagues and sometimes bosses who were gallant at work and I know for a fact they respected me (and still do) and allowed me to take on more responsibilities. I would certainly not generalize this study’s statement.
How it Should Be in the Workplace
Chivalry is not something we should expect from men in the workplace. If women want to be totally equal to men, why should they expect to be treated differently? However, if a man is gallant towards me—for example I’m in an elevator and a man steps away to let me get out first—I will accept and say thank you (as a sign that this was not required in the first place).
It is also important to make the distinction between chivalry and politeness. Politeness applies to men AND women, and SHOULD be present in our work environments—as in any other part of our lives.
For example, when I open a door and I know someone is just a few steps behind me, I hold it open and wait for that person to grab the door—be it a woman or a man. This is simple courtesy. And when a man OR a woman doesn’t do that for me and the door almost slams in my face, I find that rude.
If desired, chivalry can have a better place in a romantic context. And that may translate in quite a wide variety of things depending on the couple you talk to (and the age group they belong to). Just as what defines the word romance will vary greatly from one person to another.