The Sea of Sexism: How to Navigate Bigotry in the Workplace
By Helen Carter, Founder, SelfExam
We are long past the days of “women’s work” and the idea that a woman’s place is in the home, aren’t we? Maybe not completely, at least according to a 2015 article posted by Bustle, an online media outlet written for women, by women. Today’s female professionals are still expected to tolerate sexist jokes, demeaning (if good-natured) nicknames, and scrutiny regarding appearance and mothering abilities [https://www.bustle.com/articles/108244-low-intensity-sexism-in-the-workplace-is-just-as-bad-as-overt-sexism-says-study-which-is].
Dealing with sexism, either obvious or subtle, is a tricky thing. And while most businesses have concrete sexual harassment policies, women (as well as men to some degree) must learn to deal with gendered expectations. Read on for a few pieces of advice on how to turn the tables in your favor when targeted unfairly for physical dissimilarities.
Flip the script.
If a male coworker makes a sexist remark, politely ask if he would’ve said or done the same thing to another man. For instance, would he have remarked on a male coworker’s shoes or referred to him as anything other than his given name? Try to remain non threatening to avoid a tense situation, but get the point across that being treated differently is neither accepted nor expected.
Don’t play the gender card — at least not at first.
Women often get tasked with menial duties such as getting coffee and calling the caterer before a big meeting. Unless these duties are specific to your job title, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask a supervisor why you, specifically, are given these tasks. Sometimes, simply pointing out what’s happening — without being accusatory — will prompt the assignor to change things up every once in awhile.
Bring up your concerns in private.
Nobody likes to be called out for their shortcomings. This is especially true when those shortcomings imply sexism, racism, or some other taboo form of prejudice. Keep things civil by pulling the offending colleague aside and pointing out their behavior. There’s no need to force an argument, but remain firm and clear in your position. A friendly reminder that it isn’t the 1950s is a good first step toward a more harmonious workplace, especially with otherwise tolerable coworkers.
Don’t laugh at inappropriate jokes.
It’s no doubt easier to shrug off sexist jokes and laugh with the crowd, but that only perpetuates a group mentality that accepts sexism in the workplace. Instead, make eye contact with the office comedian; an expressionless look will likely trigger a moment of discomfort and hopefully result in quiet reflection about what was just said. There is nothing wrong with humor in the workplace, but passive or everyday sexism can actually be damaging to a woman’s health. [https://www.rt.com/uk/313696-everyday-sexism-womens-health/]
Ask the offender to speak up.
Overhear a sexist comment? Follow it with an innocent, “I didn’t quite catch that, could you speak up?” If forced to repeat the offending language, the person speaking the ill-mannered words might just rethink their conversational strategies. Asking them to explain their remark works just as well. This is an especially effective tactic when said within earshot of a manager or supervisor.
Be blunt and move on.
There is no shame in simply replying with, “That’s not OK,” and walking away. A direct shutdown is sometimes the only way to get through to an overly-opinionated colleague.
On-the-job sexual harassment or discrimination is not OK, and it is illegal to harass a female co-worker [https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sex.cfm] by making offensive comments about women in general, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. By keeping records of sexual harassment or implied unwelcome sexual undertones, including those that suggest sexual inequality, you are in a better position to approach a supervisor or attain legal counsel to ensure the situation is fully rectified.
Discrimination of any kind can be very damaging (especially to younger people [http://www.treehouserehab.org/discrimination-and-addiction/], who aren’t as emotionally developed). It can lead to a lot of terrible things, including a loss of employment, low self-esteem, depression, and substance abuse. It’s important to face the challenge head on, and hold people accountable for their actions.
Helen Carter co-created SelfExam after her friend’s sister received a cancer diagnosis at a young age. She aims to spread awareness about cancer prevention and strives hard to offer support to those battling cancer.