The Memo Every Woman Keeps On Her Desk

Grace Torrance ’21
Women and Leadership Participant

The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk presents a workplace dilemma on how to initiate change in an environment not conducive to complete equality and inclusion relating to gender. Moreover, it challenges the roots that initiate these sentiments and weighs the consequences of bringing these to light. It relates the general decision to speak up when suffering from gender-based offenses to whether or not the audience is ready to receive and modify the actions of society.

The basis of the article is a woman, working a well-respected job for 10 years at her company, who writes a memo pointing at the disturbing pattern of sexism present within the company.  She faces the dilemma of sending her memo to the CEO. Either the CEO accepts her criticisms and applies them to transform the company, or he dismisses her writing and effectively ruins her chances of advancing further within the company. Even though she feels it is critical that someone at the top knows the true dynamics of the work environment, the opportunity cost of sending it could have major consequences. The reaction of one of her friends who she attempts to confide in over whether or not to send the memo, who is a male colleague, demonstrates a further lack of clarity on this decision. One important point, as made clear later on in the article, is that the colleague fails to question whether he should cosign or offer to support the memo in an act of solitude. Coupled with an array of other professional opinions, most of them center around two ideas. One is that she should send the memo right now in order to shed light on the issue immediately, no matter the consequences. The other is that she should revise the memo and include more concrete evidence and background in order to gain support from others and have the capacity to incite the necessary change. 

There comes a time, however, that the pressures of the effects become so unbearable that something has to be done to spark the change.

Even though this narrative was written in 1993, it remains as relevant as ever in the current climate of today’s society. Similar dilemmas as to when, how, and where to point out faults in the environment that are detrimental to the inclusion and equal acceptance of women, just as with any other identifying factor such as race or sexual orientation, are potent and current predicaments. The entire rise of the #metoo movement came as a result of women making the leap to have their story of sexual assault to become public. Each and every person who said, is saying, and will say those words, faces the construct of the benefits and consequences of this language. The differing opinions make it apparent that there is no clear answer as to which atmosphere, if any, one should come out to say they have been sexually assaulted. There comes a time, however, that the pressures of the effects become so unbearable that something has to be done to spark the change.

In the company in the memo, the atmosphere is one that “slowly erodes a woman’s sense of self-worth and place.” Similar sentiments were felt that sparked the #metoo movement. With the objective of creating a warm and inclusive environment to all, there must be dramatic change stemming from the very top in order to actually make a difference. However, an important aspect of this is a collective effort; simply attacking it from the top leadership will not have an impact on the whole. There needs to be a collective effort and dedication to mediating the issue in order to effectively and completely combat it.