5 Ways to Handle Subtle Sexism
3 years, 3 months ago Posted in: Blog 0

In my recent article, 3 Signs You’re the Target of Narrow-Minded People and What to Do, I described how women and people of color are often the target of bias and are much more likely to encounter the subtle forms of prejudice than the more obvious signs. In this article, I will zero in on the most common things you may hear others say or do at work that let you know bias and gender discrimination is at play. I will also share some effective responses in each situation.

You are assigned tasks that are stereotyped for women
There are many tasks that generally go to women and not to men. These tasks can include office housekeeping, answering phones, and completing paperwork. Unless these activities are explicitly in your job description, this kind of treatment implies that women will assume all office kitchen duties and other menial chores that are only appropriate for women – not men.

Response: Since these requests and demands cause you to feel obliged and/or pressured to play these roles, challenge these questionable decisions by asking why this task is assumed or necessary for you to handle as a woman. To be sure you are on firm ground, know your rights, and understand the best way to uphold them. Do not agree to any unreasonable requests. Speak with and get support from other women and male colleagues, and be professional about any complaints you make.

You are continually interrupted while talking
Research has shown that women are interrupted more frequently than men, both in the workplace and during personal conversations. Men are generally more likely to interrupt others, but they are more likely to cut off a woman in conversation than another man. And while women were less likely to interrupt men, they also tend to cut off other women. This subtle bias reinforces the message that women don’t deserve to be heard, and your opinions are less important than those of male colleagues and acquaintances.

Response: The next time a guy completely steamrolls over a point you were trying to make, you don’t have to just politely shrug it off. Speak up to acknowledge that it’s not only rude — it’s also sexist, and you wish to be fully heard.

You hear inappropriate sexual remarks or encounter actions that make your skin crawl
Sexual harassment is a legal protection issue that all businesses must address when women experience it. Harassment can interfere with your success or conjure a hostile work environment. There are visible signs of inappropriate behavior at work that include the following:

Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography, with coworkers
Sending suggestive letters, notes, or emails
Telling lewd jokes, or sharing sexual anecdotes
Making inappropriate sexual gestures, staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner, or whistling
Making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts
Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person
Asking sexual questions, such as inquiries about someone’s sexual history or their sexual orientation
Making offensive comments about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity
Response: It doesn’t matter who initiates the offense. It could be a manager, coworker, or even a non-employee like a client, contractor, or vendor. If the person’s conduct creates a hostile work environment or interrupts your success, it is considered unlawful sexual harassment. Bring your observations and experiences directly to your boss, so that this can be addressed right away. Should you feel like you have been harmed by sexual harassment in the workplace, take your experiences to human resources.

If this isn’t satisfactory for you, there are steps you can take to file a harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). To successfully file such a complaint, however, you have to be able to prove that a) your employer tried to correct the harassing behavior, and b) that the employee responsible for the harassment refused to cease and desist. Therefore, it is critical that you first report the harassment to your employer’s human resources department as well as taking detailed notes of the dates, times, and nature of the incidents. If attempts to correct the situation fail, you must file your claim with the EEOC within 180 days by mail, in person, or by calling 800-669-4000.

You are continually overlooked for promotions or getting the raises that men receive
Are you noticing a pattern that men are the ones repeatedly given the opportunities for advancement over women who are just as capable, competent and experienced? While gender discrimination regarding promotion offers can be difficult to substantiate, women can be overlooked by justifications that seem reasonable but really are not. Issues for women when it comes to being candidates for promotion can be the risk of taking maternity leave, discomfort elevating a woman to positions where men feel uncomfortable, and giving women the same kind of project challenges men get that develop their readiness for promotions.

Response: Speak with your boss to get feedback and clarification on how and why promotions were made. Visit with a human resources professional to ask about how to get the support that will get you on track as a high potential candidate for advancement opportunities. Question the rationale behind any pay disparities.

You are being mocked for expressing your emotions
Research in the workplace shows that women are taken less seriously when they express anger, while men who express anger gain respect for displaying this emotion. Are you noticing that emotional expressions are frequently ridiculed in women? When we express strong feelings, we’re often dismissed as being “hysterical” and “too upset to be taken seriously,” no matter how we’re expressing ourselves or what feelings we’re expressing. Women are often accused of moods that are attributed to hormonal shifts. This pattern means that women potentially have less impact in persuading, influencing, and making group decisions.

Response: The next time someone tells you to “just calm down and relax,” take a deep breath and think about whether they’d say the same to a man who was acting the same way you are. Then, instead of getting defensive, let others know that emotions are universally relevant for both men and women, and are essential to making good decisions.

Andrea Zintz
Ph.D., Leadership Coach

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