How to Combat Workplace Sexism

As professional women, we are all too familiar with the casual misogyny that rears its head in our careers. Maybe it’s a colleague that says something inappropriate, makes assumptions about your duties, or has a habit of talking over and interrupting you.

While #MeToo has helped raise awareness and women to find their voice, there is still so much to be done. I just watched a conversation on “Microaggressions in the Workplace” on the Tone Networks’ platform. Much sexism today is a subtle action or language, and it requires courage to share your feedback with the offender.

When you notice everyday sexism, it’s essential to speak up, but how? 

I like to approach instances of subtle sexism as an opportunity to educate the offender. Reframe the situation, and challenge the assumptions he made in a way that promotes collaboration and change. Having a friendly and positive attitude, or even a sense of humor, goes a long way when bringing inappropriate behavior in the workplace to someone’s attention. Yes, it can feel exhausting or defeating to have to teach others to treat you with respect, but the best way to influence greater change is to educate through an open, and approachable dialogue.

Engaging in a healthy and fruitful conversation requires the person you are sharing your feedback with to be open, receptive, and willing to change. Try putting yourself in their shoes. Think about what you could say and how you say it, so that your message lands correctly. Humanize your comments and share why it upsets you or how it makes you feel. While hard to imagine, it is possible that people are not aware that their comments and behavior are inappropriate, particularly when they are slight or off-hand.

When that doesn’t work…

Suppose you have addressed sexist comments or behavior with an individual, yet the behavior continues despite your efforts. In that case, you should absolutely speak with their boss or your human resources contact. This person lacks an understanding of appropriate professional behavior, and it should be addressed. They are negatively affecting you and, most likely, your colleagues. 

As a good corporate citizen, and someone committed to equality in the workplace, you have a professional responsibility to speak up. It may feel uncomfortable, but remember that you are advocating for yourself and other women. We all have your back, and it’s your right to feel comfortable in your workplace. Again, think about what you want to say and how to say it so that your message lands correctly. Your goal is to create a work environment where everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, which allows you and your colleagues to be your authentic selves and do your best work. 

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Kim Martin

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