The rise in whataboutery

by Apr 4, 2024

What is whataboutery and how what we can do about it

Whataboutery can be distracting and interfere with constructive discussion

 

I’ve noticed that when I write or speak about the challenges of women in the workplace, one thing that keeps popping up that is a barrier to any meaningful discussion is the phenomenon of “whataboutery.”

Whataboutery is the practice of deflecting criticism or concerns by pointing to a different or parallel issue, sometimes unrelated, to diminish the significance of the original topic. In the context of advancing women in the workplace, whataboutery can be distracting and interfere with constructive discussion

The most common manifestation of whataboutery in discussions about gender equality is the retort, “But what about men?” This can come in a seemingly benign but loaded inquiry “What are the stats for men?

These responses attempt to shift the focus away from women’s experiences and challenges by implication that another group usually men face similar or even worse issues.

While it is true that men encounter the same or their own set of difficulties in the workplace, it is crucial to recognise that these issues should not overshadow or detract from efforts to address gender inequality faced by women. Stereotyped expectations of both male and female behaviour in gender-conforming roles – trap us all.

How to Rethink the Modern Workplace for Gender Equality – 3 Plus International

The issues impacting men are no less important but if they are not the topic in hand they should not be the priority.

 

whataboutery

Whataboutery and Intersectionality

Whataboutery can frequently take the form of comparing the struggles of “women” to those women in other marginalised groups, such as people of colour, LGBTQ+ individuals, or those with disabilities. Intersectionality is an important part of the debate and contributes to the complexity of of discrimination. These different forms of marginalisation overlap and compound one another.

All women experience difficulties at different levels in the workplace and should not detract from efforts to achieve gender equality.

Systemic issues

Whataboutery also serves to divert attention away from systemic issues and structural barriers that support the status quo and contribute to gender inequality. Whataboutery obscures the broader patterns of discrimination and bias that permeate many workplaces by shifting the focus to individual anecdotes or exceptional cases.

Instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue about how to unpick these barriers to create more inclusive environments, whataboutery perpetuates a cycle of deflection and inaction that helps no one.

How to deal with whataboutery

It’s hard to deal with an onslaught of whataboutery and to stay focused on the issues in hand. Dealing with whataboutery requires a combination of patience, clarity, and strategic communication as well as knowing your subject. The intention is sometimes not innocent and can be to undermine you, especially at a subconscious level, also known as credentialing. I know, I experience it regularly.

If you can’t respond at the time, listen to the point being made and say you will research it and get back to them.  What is important is to offer context or background information to clarify why the current issue is relevant and deserving of their attention.

Calling out whataboutery

Knowing if and when to call out whataboutery is not easy. Calling it out can lead to even deeper resistance and kill any constructive discussion on the topic.  You can offer to discuss other concerns separately at a more appropriate time or forum, but emphasise the need to address the current issue first.   Another voice can also help keep the conversation on track whether online or in person.

Addressing whataboutery requires patience, persistence, and a commitment to fostering constructive dialogue. By staying focused on the issue, calling out deflection tactics, and promoting understanding and empathy, you can effectively counter whataboutery and keep the conversation moving forward towards meaningful solutions.

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Needs support creating bias-free communications? Contact 3Plus NOW

 

 

 

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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