The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Today In ‘Sweeping Generalisations Digest’: Australian Women Are “Too Timid” At Work!

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 19, 2008

Hey ladies, wondering why you just can’t get ahead in the workforce? Perhaps it’s because you keep lying down and letting yourself get walked all over? That’s the word from the latest “study” of questionable value, this time from – ahem – “US researcher Sharon Goodson”, who reckons Australian women are “too timid” in the office:

U.S. researcher Shannon Goodson says Australia’s professional women are not earning what they are worth because they “struggle with stage fright and sensitivities about appearing too forward, pushy or intrusive.”


Ms Goodson was surprised by the results, given the stereotype of the meek English woman and the brash, outspoken Aussie.

“They’re not comfortable with conflict,” she said of Australian women.

Right, so she actually thought that stereotypes were accurate reflections of her sample groups before she began the study? Gee, off to a flying start.

My experience in the offices of Australia is fairly limited given I’ve worked from home for the past four years, but in the office I did work in, the women were amongst the most outspoken members of the team. I can’t help but feel that hollow studies like this are just another way to perpetuate outdated ideas about the way women work.

I’d be interested to hear from those who do the 9-to-5. Do you think this research is accurate?


9 Responses to “Today In ‘Sweeping Generalisations Digest’: Australian Women Are “Too Timid” At Work!”

  1. Yeah. I actually got as far as the first photo on the article with the caption claiming English women were ‘meek’. Then I decisively clicked the ‘x’ box in the corner of the screen.

  2. Melanie said

    Hmmm…having worked in various 9 to 5 jobs, I think there is actually some element of truth in this. In my experience, women, regardless of nationality, are often not comfortable with conflict – which in most places/situations is seen as a plus. In workplaces that are either male or female dominated, I have noticed that it’s one thing for women to be outspoken (about work etc), but another altogether to feel comfortable about putting themselves forward ie. telling their boss they are irreplaceable and should have a raise.
    So while I don’t abide by sweeping generalisations – especially ones regarding nationality and/or are concluded from what seems to be a pretty flimsy study – I think that people (male or female) can be unfairly held back at work if they don’t ‘boast’ about their talents…even when boasting is just a lot of hot air.

  3. Natasha said

    I have recently begun the 9 to 5 after doing a many years of freelancing either from home or in unconventional workplaces. From the little I’ve seen in my current workplace in the last two months I can’t see any truth in this. There are a range of personalities in our office, of which three are highly assertive – and two of these three are women.

    I agree that this pigeon-holing is completely pointless and unfair to all women, and also the many men who are too ‘meek’ to feel comfortable promoting themselves in the workplace.

    Surely how comfortable a person feels about speaking up in the workplace is equally dependent on their personality (which is not the determined by gender, I’m pretty sure we cleared that one up decades ago) and the culture of the work environment. I am a more subdued version of myself (which is still not that subdued) because there are a lot of diligent, gentle types there and this seems most appropriate, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t speak up to defend my ideas or my interests.

  4. audrey said

    In addition to freelancing, I work in the state office of a national media company. All of my superiors are women. Actually, everyone at my workplace is very progressive when it comes to just being cool about gender issues and politics – both men and women.

  5. Bri said

    The female managers I have had have been the total opposite. They have been everything this article says women aren’t. I wonder if they were compensating…

  6. Elizabeth said

    I’ve definitely noticed that, since we’re speaking generally, reactions to women who have dominant, subversive, or brashly-stated opinions are not friendly. I moved here two years ago from NYC and worked for BUST and (perhaps that’s why) I was horrified at the conspicuous undercurrent of blokey-bloke conservatism, even among younger people. It made me feel very much alone, and my loudness seemed to brand me as “difficult”, to say the least.

  7. audrey said

    Elizabeth, firstly – you worked for BUST? Me = jealous.

    There’s definitely a trend here of blokey bloke conservatism while women who buck against this are difficult AND humourless. It astonishes me no end that when Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt write hateful, sanctimonious opinions that advocate the oppression of anyone not in their own little bubble they are either celebrated by their fans or branded ‘converative fucks’ by their detractors.

    Meanwhile, a female columnist like me is either called ‘outspoken’ (can be good or bad) or ‘jealous’ or ‘difficult’ or ‘obnoxious’. Perhaps I’m being too sensitive, but it seems so obvious that male pundits are celebrated or hated in a way that has everything to do with their writing whereas females are predominantly targeted through how their writing reflects on their femininity.

  8. Anne Thomilson said

    It is interesting to note that the article in question is not about the researcher’s mere opinion, but data obtained from tens of thousands of women themselves. I have not seen research on this scale and perhaps we should quiet our reflexive need to criticize or point out anecdotal “it’s not true of the five women I work with” exceptions and consider what we might be able to learn. One thing for sure: Unlike small one off studies, with this much data no reasonable person can call it inconclusive.

  9. Melanie said

    I think that’s a great point Anne.

    The study the article was about was not about how opinionated people can be in the workplace, or about putting forward/defending your point of view about something that has come up at work etc.

    It was about self-promotion in the workplace – putting yourself forward and advancing your career options. It was saying that of the people surveyed women were significantly less likely to self-promote, to network and put themselves forward or “push our talents” – and Australian women were even less likely to than other nationalities.

    In short, it was saying that women, particularly Australian women, don’t seem to like to boast in the workplace – and this can be a hindrance in a patriarchal work culture that rewards boasting with promotion.

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