Women face a number of challenges in the workplace. Many times, they’re invisible: lost opportunities for promotions, difficulty breaking into certain departments, and lower salaries, for example. Other times, however, there may be blatant sexism in the workplace. While women are the most likely to see sexism–or to be victims of it–men should also be aware of this all-too-common issue and how to address it when it comes up. Do you need to call out sexist behavior at work? These practical tips will make it easier to address this issue.
1. Recognize the difference between a casual, recurring problem and a one-time issue. In many cases, what appears to be sexist behavior may instead be the result of ignorance. If you notice one instance of sexist behavior, take the individual aside and point out the error in their thinking or their behavior. A quiet aside will, in may cases, be more effective than a longer diatribe–or even taking your concerns to HR. On the other hand, if you notice an overall attitude of sexism or repeated problems from a single individual, you may find that you need to take stronger measures.
2. Keep it calm and casual. Responding heatedly to what you view as sexism is unlikely to make a difference in the individual’s thinking–and in the worst-case scenario, it may even reinforce their internal opinion that women are overemotional. Instead, always try the path of least resistance first, and keep your response to even the most negative scenario as calm and patient as possible. Quietly expressing that there’s a problem is a much more effective way to let a man know that he’s crossed a line than trying to portray yourself as a victim.
3. Question assumptions. Many of the most sexist comments you’ll hear in the workplace aren’t necessarily an indication of what an individual really thinks about his female coworkers. In fact, you’ll often find that the real issue at hand is what’s being parroted as a result of society’s expectations. When you question the assumptions made by a sexist individual, you can change the way they think about women in general and you in particular–and often prevent future misunderstandings.
Learning to challenge sexist behavior when you hear it is an ongoing process. You might not be able to transform the entire office overnight, but you can create a substantial difference in people on individual at a time–and eventually, you’ll create a stunning shift in company culture.