You are a woman, on the first day of your job collecting garbage for a large municipality. You pick up the garbage can and are about to dump it into the truck when your male colleague drives off. Everything in the garbage can spills out onto the street, and you are furious. You are certain he never would have done that to a man.
You have just been promoted to the upper levels of a corporation. After a few days you realize that your name has not been included on the right lists and you are not being informed of meetings you are supposed to attend. You are convinced that you are deliberately being kept out of the circle of power because you are a woman. But are you really?
Natasha Josefowitz, a business professor at San Diego State and author of "Paths to Power: a Woman's Guide from First Job to Top Executive," has been asking this question during the year that she has been consulting for the city government of San Diego. The answers she has gotten from looking into situations of perceived discrimination in everything from the fire department to the solid waste division have lead her to some original and important anthropological insights into the tribal practices of the way we work. They are practices, she says, which men take for granted but which women often misunderstand.
Josefowitz has developed a clear distinction between what she calls hazing, which is designed to find out if you can be trusted and which has membership in the working group as an ultimate reward, and harassment, which is designed to keep the new person out, and is discriminatory.
"What women ought to know," she says, "is whether men in the organization go through similar experiences. If the answer is yes, it is hazing. It is important for women to know that hazing practices exist, what they are, and the responses that will gain them membership. So far I have found that becoming upset or becoming angry will produce more hazing. The best response is joking along. If it doesn't seem to let up, in spite of the person's good response, it might be in fact discrimination." But, she says, she "would urge women not to shout sexual harassment before checking out whether it is a hazing practice that will abate."
She has separated hazing into three categories: testing, teaching and teasing. "Testing occurs when the work is potentially dangerous, such as fire, construction, police, the armed forces, where people have to rely on each other as a team, very often to survive, so that the testing takes dangerous forms. For instance, on a construction site someone will be told that the electricity is off, when in fact, it wasn't and they will burn themselves. What they learn by that is never to believe anyone, but test everything yourself.
"Teaching takes place in offices or restaurants. A new waiter or waitress is given the worst spots, the bad shifts, too many customers. In an office, the new secretary is given the bad typewriter, or more work than she can possibly handle, or all the menial kinds of things. It's an orientation process: Can they do it? Are they willing to work under bad conditions? If the answer is yes, it means they really want the job and can handle it and can therefore become an acceptable member.
"Whereas the first two have obvious benefits for the organization. . . teasing is really only to alleviate boredom and make the people doing the teasing feel more powerful. They are humiliating the new people entering."
Hazing, she says, "is a male experience. Males expect it and understand its purpose and its transitory nature and that the reward of membership is at the other end. Because it is not a female experience, women do not expect it and believe they are the sole victims of it and take it as harassment and discrimination." And with women it has a sexual component that can take the form of tasteless jokes, for example, to see how the woman handles it.
An estimate based on a Merit Systems Protection Board study has put the cost of sexual harassment in the federal workforce alone at $189 million over a two-year period in health costs, loss of productivity and turnover. By distinguishing between harassment and the often unconscious practice of hazing, Josefowitz is drawing a useful distinction that may enable women to better cope with the initiation period in new jobs, when most perceived harassment occurs. The woman garbage collector, for example, was ready to quit her job.
Until she found out that the veterans play tricks on the new men, too.