How the post #metoo movement is elevating workplace equality

Leave it to Pixar to have a ball of yarn take on bro-culture in the workplace. In Pixar’s newest short film “Purl,” a bright pink ball of yarn named Purl eagerly begins her first day at the all-male startup company named B.R.O. Capital. Throughout the first day of work, viewers see Purl painfully struggle to fit in with her all-male colleagues. She can’t quite crack the right jokes at the water cooler, and they later leave her at the office while they break for happy hour wings. Although the film is just under nine minutes, it tackles the paradox many women face: Do I become “one of the guys” just to fit in? Or do I risk ostracization just for being a woman?

A 2018 report from LinkedIn and the Global Gender Gap Report examined 12 industries including health care, media and communication, education, corporate services and software and IT services. They found that women make up less than 50 percent of leaders in all of the industries analyzed. In certain fields, such as energy and mining or manufacturing, women hold less than 20 percent of leadership roles. The study also noted that the growth rate of women in leadership has been slow, reporting that, “…over the past ten years, the proportion of female leaders increased by an average of just over 2 percentage points across the 12 industries studied.” The areas with the highest percentage of women in corporate leadership — over 40 percent — were health care, education and nonprofit. Traditionally, these fields have had a stronger female presence.

As the focus of the #MeToo movement now shifts towards the music industry it still leaves corporations and businesses with changes to make and the simple question: what now? It was incredible watching so many women — and men — bravely step up and share their stories of harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace and to see justice served. But, as “Purl” points out, the lingering presence of bro-culture and male solidarity continues to be a problem for women in the workplace.

As more women continue to make their presence known in traditionally male-oriented fields, the issue that still arises for women is how to gain the respect of their male co-workers. The obvious answer for gaining respect is — and should be — based on aspects such as talent, work ethic and personal conduct. Yet for many women, these actions are dismissed or simply seen as not enough. In 2017, the New York Times published a list of stories women had submitted about their experiences of sexism in the workplace. The testimonies ranged in form but all carried the same theme of unequal treatment.

It is this last-ditch effort for respect and equality that drives many women to play into the culture of their company and embrace the role of “one of the guys.” In fact, this changing of one’s personality to feel accepted at work is what pushed the film’s director Kristen Lester to create “Purl.” An interview with BBC explains how Lester’s real-life experience influenced the film writing, “…the film is inspired by her own experiences in the animation industry. Starting out, she was often the only woman in the room and felt like she had to morph into ‘one of the guys.’ ‘I didn’t want to risk being rejected, and so I would change to eliminate that risk…” Lester said.

Lester also cited specific examples of how she would adapt her personality to fit in with her male co-workers. “At her early jobs, Lester says she had to do little things, like self-edit her conversations around her male colleagues, to fit in. One example was avoiding referencing films that she feared were viewed as ‘too girly,’” the interview stated.

“I didn’t want to be associated with those things because I felt it emphasized that I was different,” Lester said. “So, I would choose to reference movies that I knew my male coworkers had watched and liked. It got my point across, but it wasn’t the movie that I had personally connected to.”

The idea that someone has to completely censor or change themselves to gain respect and equality in the workplace is both harmful and dangerous. Businesses are highly competitive and fast-paced, which isn’t actually the problem. The problem appears when people undermine and disrespect others just to climb another corporate rung. A CNN article explains that no one wins in a work environment where toxic masculinity is so heavily ingrained in its culture.

The article says, “Even if a woman can attempt to compete, however, by either undercutting male colleagues or demonstrating masculinity in the same ways they do, colleagues often don’t respond well. They might applaud a more aggressive man as a leader, but view her in a negative light.”

In the same article, Janine Yancey, CEO of Emtrain, a workplace training company, explains the male perspective noting, “Not everyone is just really testosterone-driven and has that style…If there’s no path to take a different, more collaborative style, then that’s exclusive for men, too. If they feel like they can’t succeed unless they’re president of the frat house, pretty much, then what opportunities does that present for them?”

Without giving away the complete story of “Purl,” it’s safe to say that by the end of the film she’s found herself respected at work for who she is. She also is shown helping to foster a work culture where men and balls of yarn work together. While a complete overhaul and transformation of a company’s culture won’t happen overnight, that doesn’t mean it should go unaddressed. Companies thrive when their best talents collaborate and where everyone’s thoughts and ideas are equally valued and respected.  In all her radiant pink color and chirpy personality, “Purl,” serves as a reminder to celebrate the progress women have made and to keep pushing towards equality for the women of tomorrow.