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‘What If She Was Your Daughter’ - Lessons From the Training Room

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Changing perspectives on gender equity. 

In the battle of the sexes there are no winners. Gender equality improves efficiency and productivity, increased numbers of women in the workforce leads to increased performance in male staff, it enhances a company's reputation and leads to stronger financial outcomes not just at an organisational level, but at a national level. 

If gender equality is good for everyone, not just women, why are we still facing widespread discrimination, harrassment and wage disparity in the workforce? One issue is a lack of awareness of appropriate workplace behaviour. Men in the workforce not only treat women differently, they are often unaware of how their attitudes, words and actions impact their female colleagues.

What if she was your daughter?’

and it’s counterparts, ‘What if she was your sister, mother, wife…’ 

I often see this approach used in roleplaying scenarios where male participants have chosen to challenge a male colleague about their behaviour towards a female member of staff.  There are some smarts to this approach. The person asking the question is attempting to humanise their female colleague, by comparing them to someone the recipient has a relationship with already.

Would they treat someone they know and care about, the way they are treating their female colleague. 

I find the use of this language problematic. 

It frames a human being in relation to someone else. It misses the point that the colleague in question brings their own value to the workplace, and is a person with thoughts and feelings of their own.

It’s almost exclusively used in a female context. I’m yet to hear ‘What if he was your son?’ as a way to help someone empathise with a male colleague.

Unfortunately, the question also operates under the assumption that the person you are speaking with has a respectful and equitable relationship with women in their personal lives. 

So how do we promote gender equality in the workplace and confront inappropriate behaviour? In our programs, we have observed that people respect others when they understand who they are, what motivates them and why they behave the way they do. Instead of comparing your female colleagues to female family members, encourage men in the workplace to get to know their female counterparts better. Raise awareness of your colleagues behaviours and how it impacts those around them by asking different questions:

‘What response did your colleague have to that comment/behaviour?’ ‘How comfortable do you think your colleague was with that interaction?’ ‘What verbal and/or non verbal signals did they give you about how they wish to be treated?’

Or more simply,What if she was your colleague?’

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