It’s annual party time at the office and that means all the city staff get to pack their bags and head out to the Site for a big party. Its clear that for a lot of the women, this is a rare treat of a night away from family. A “tourist” weekend is not a common event and while I can’t speak for them, I’m sure part of the fun is not having to cook and clean for a couple of nights.
This year there was a bit of controversy though. It’s common at Lao formal functions to have some young women dressed up in traditional dress “entertain guests”. Nothing that bad, usually consists of inviting guest to dance, making sure their glass is refilled, etc. It would certainly be expected if there was a VIP, especially from the Government. But this year an email went out assigning women staff (from junior secretaries to financial controllers) that they had been selected to dress up and “serve”. At their own staff party. I was shocked and saddened and pointed out to management that this anathema to their wishes for an equitable workplace and thought nothing would come of it. But a great thing happened–right after the email went out, women started emailing back that they weren’t coming. Copying their responses to everyone, they pointed out they had better things to do and one even asked “Did you check if we were free?” (with the between the lines being “or that we agreed to do this?!”). It was a wonderful sight.
Later I suggested to the head honcho that the author of the email (a nice guy) be quietly pulled aside so he could have it explained to him why what he wrote was not appropriate. He agreed and I thought we were getting somewhere. Until he concluded, “but if a manager had asked them the women would have said yes!”.
Uh yeah. Cause they would have not felt secure enough in their jobs to question someone who outranks them. True. But they still would have been pissed and the order still would have been wrong!