Look, as much as we like to pretend the days of Mad Men are long gone, it really isn’t the case. Instead, sexism in the workplace has just become a lot less overt and cliché. Women regularly report being interrupted, spoken over or even asked to go get coffee for everyone. That’s just the basic stuff. Casual sexism extends into even more serious things like wage and promotions. So how do you deal with it effectively and without making it worse?
#1: Inappropriate comments
Unfortunately it is too familiar to a lot of women and could be as simple as stepping into a room unannounced to hear colleagues using what has become ridiculously known as “locker room talk.” Women use locker rooms too and don’t get to label being sexist as excusable post-workout conversation. A friend once told me that she one day heard her male coworkers rating the women of the office. She was further disgusted when they revealed it was fine for her to know, as she was “one of the guys.”
So how do you deal with this? Well, the tried and true method is acting like you don’t understand what they are saying and forcing them to explain it. It is sometimes only when people have to outline the reasoning behind their actions that they see how out of line they really are. Imagine if my friend had asked her colleagues to explain what rating women meant and what was the purpose of it. Sometimes putting people on the spot really is good enough to make them think twice before doing it again.
#2: Cliché labels
It’s well known that assertive women are often reduced to the label of “bossy.” When this label is thrown at you, it can be tempting to shrink yourself to get away from this reputation. However, who said being bossy is a bad thing? Recent years have seen the popularity of branding yourself a Girl Boss or just a Boss in general.
Here the way to deal with being put down for taking the initiative or being confident is to simply own it. If it is a point of pride for your male coworkers, then it should be one for you too. And worse comes to worse, you can out people for their prehistoric concepts of women in the workplace by saying, “Oh, perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I’ll take being called bossy as compliment.” After all, you’ve listened to too much Cardi B to let anyone put you down for taking care of business.
#3: The “E” word
For years and years, women have been considered to be victims of their own emotions. Hysteria, meaning uncontrollable passion or excitement, literally comes from the Greek word for uterus. In response, women have often felt the need to push down any emotional reactions so that they will be taken seriously, rather than have their decisions or reactions to things written off as “irrational.”
Shutting down emotions is neither a healthy nor sustainable response – shout-singing to music in your car on the drive home is not the answer either. So how do you flip the script on being labeled emotional? One idea is to drop the “e” bomb first. Before your colleague can undermine you, suggest something like, “Hey, I can see you’re getting emotional over this. Let’s get back to the issue at hand.” Not only will this throw them for a loop, it also means that they can’t throw the label back at you because it will just look like they’re scrambling for a response. Game, set and match!
Defeat is not an option
Whatever issue you’re encountering, it is important to never forget that you’re not alone. Women have had to face casual sexism in the workplace for years and there’s a good chance your female colleagues will be able to relate. Support each other and work together to create the change you want to see. After all, women aren’t going anywhere so sexist coworkers will just have to shape up or ship out.