This is one of those blog posts where I don’t have a scientific study to support my hypothesis, so please take this post with a grain of salt. It’s an opinion and because of that, it’s not scientifically proven. Nor should it have to be.
I’ve been reading “A Very Stable Genius” about Trump and the Trump-administration. We currently live in a world where opinion replaces fact so I wanted to be clear on the outset what this post is about and where it lands in the spectrum of fact <-> opinion. That said, let’s get started.
One of the issues I’ve become more and more aware of as I moved to North America and as I’ve become more aware of systemic issues in the industry I’m working in, I’ve also noticed the increased tendency to put solutions for systemic problems on the individual. Actually, that’s not true. This was an issue in Sweden as well, at least when those systemic problems became issues for individuals.
Because systemic issues like sexism, racism and different types of phobias connected to gender and sexuality are hard to solve1 once they’ve taken root in an organization, it’s much easier to point to an individual and ask them to find ways to handle the issue rather than change the values, culture and other people’s minds.
As a company, it’s easier to try to change one person than it is to change a system, and personally I think this is why we’re stuck with lessons of mindfulness and strategies for handling stress instead of dealing with issues that arise because of the color of our skin, or because we’re coded as women rather than men. Or for that matter what gender we’re attracted to.
It becomes a problem when a person does everything they’re asked to do and more, taking on all that systemic weight and trying to change. They’ll be unable to. Systemic issues such as racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia won’t go away because one person learns mindfulness. Instead, the culture in charge of the gatekeeping – because let’s be real, that’s what it is – will change to keep the individual out or the individual will have to do violence on themselves and their identity in order to fit into the (often) token role they’re given.
As a person, I can learn how to handle stress that rises from certain areas in my worklife, I can ask for help when it comes to planning, risk assessment, ways to work smarter. But I can’t be responsible for a culture that’s in effect telling me to change things about me that I can’t change.
Hard earned lessons of the past had me taking responsibility for situations where I was not responsible. What happened was that I pointed to patterns of sexism, something that was extremely uncomfortable for the company I was working at at the time, because the company self-image was that it didn’t happen there. When a few of us in the middle of the situation pointed to the sexist issues, we were at first asked to deal with it ourselves2, and then we were bullied out of the company.
It comes at a high cost for an individual to be gatekept, asked to conform and trying to fit in to a company culture that is ultimately toxic for them. Micro aggressions and not-so-micro aggressions will wear us down, eat away at our confidence and make ourselves smaller to fit in to the boxes we’re given by the gatekeepers. All of this in a “personal effort” to deal with everything from “work stress” to “attitude problems”. What it is is a person being gaslighted by a system that’s uses to keep marginalized groups down and the majority in power.
In the mean time, us as individuals have to deal with the fallout. Thinking we’re less than who we really are. Thinking that the goals we set to make ourselves feel better will help, when in fact they might only serve to raise our stress levels. Because no matter what you do, if you live and work inside a culture with systemic injustice, it’s still a way to keep the non-conformists out and the the power in the hands of the majority.