Should sports banter be banned in offices so that women don't feel excluded? NO!
PUBLISHED: 14:20 28 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:53 28 January 2020
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What a ridiculous idea, says Liz Nice. It's not sports banter that women have to worry about...
I was watching a school sports match the other week.
This is always an interesting experience for any mother. Especially one who doesn't know anybody.
The men all stand together, usually in silence and intent on the match, while the women chat about their kids and their hair appointments.
I may be exaggerating slightly. The truth is I find women I don't know much scarier than men I don't know so if I'm going to be sociable, I tend to gravitate towards the men. (This may be why I'm not so good with women?)
Anyway, as I hadn't been able to afford a hair appointment in a while, and none of the women were talking about their husbands (which I tend to linger around for, as it's entertaining), I thought I might like to join the male group.
This is how I did it.
"Bloody VAR," I said, to a man I know to be a Norwich fan.
The rest of the match passed in companionable chatter about VAR which went all the way down the line of men, had us all very animated, in between cheering our children and I realised I had thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.
I do have an opinion about VAR because I am a passionate football fan and have been since the age of eight. But it occurs to me that even if I knew nothing about sport, it would make sense to learn about it so that I could talk to men more easily.
Most of the men I know like talking about sport. They do this because they think it's a damn sight less stressful than talking about their feelings and even if their friend has been dumped by his wife, they will do anything rather than ask him about it. If he is able to converse about Saturday's match, they will consider him to be perfectly fine and will feel they have done their job as his mate.
This is no criticism of the ways of men. Just an observation.
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Meanwhile, I cannot remember a single occasion when out with a female friend, even if she is interested in sport, when we have discussed sport at all. Why would we? Our kids, our husbands and our hair are far more interesting. We usually enjoy a good bitch, too.
Is it sexist to point out this basic difference between the sexes? Probably. Oh well.
But according to the Chartered Management Institute, there may be something sinister in all of this.
Apparently, because offices are usually male led, the predominance of chatter about sport is excluding women.
The Institute's head, Ann Francke, told BBC's Today programme, "A lot of women, in particular, feel left out. They don't follow those sports and they don't like either being forced to talk about them or not being included."
Ms Francke would obviously not have been happy with me as she specifically mentioned VAR as something which can 'divide offices'. She added that sports banter can lead to 'laddish behaviour' and 'if unchecked', to chat about sexual conquests. I do hope so. I shall talk about VAR more often in that case.
Quite honestly, what we talk about in offices is beside the point. If women are worried about being excluded, their fears will involve not being invited to important meetings, or missing out on promotions that go to less capable men. They won't expect men to moderate their conversation, any more than we would wish to moderate our own. Besides, you can't have a rule for what people can say to each other. How ludicrous, and, frankly terrifying. And how would it be enforced?
'Brian, I'm terribly sorry, but you've been talking about football far too much today. I'm afraid it's going to be a disciplinary.'
This mad idea takes no account of the many women out there who love sport, especially football, nor of the basic fact that much of our lives are spent listening to conversations from both male and female friends that we find utterly dull because we have no interest in the subject but go along with out of politeness.
As my work friend Pete says, 'It's like saying I'm excluded when you and (our friend) Nick talk about your kids.'
Somehow, he manages to overcome that pain however - we have plenty of other areas of shared interest, football and pub quizzes being the chief ones.
The real issue here is that men run most of our offices. However delightful or annoying one finds this, it is the current status quo so we women have two choices. Either start conversations with men about what we want to talk about - find me a man who doesn't enjoy a bit of salacious gossip for example - or learn about sport. I remember my dear late friend Trevor used to introduce me to everyone as 'the only woman I know who truly understands football.' I think he would have done pretty much anything I had ever asked him because of it.
So, use what you've got, ladies. One day, perhaps, the tables will turn and men at work will be forced to talk about hairstyles and feelings. In the meantime, maybe consider that football is a fantastic game, the knowledge of which can make you walk on water with pretty much every man you ever meet. I'm a woman. I was smart enough to work that one out a very long time ago.