Everyday Sexism – What It Looks Like

A friend in a male-dominated industry complained to me earlier this year about the “bro” culture at her company. And hearing the details which included a lot of euphemisms and, well, some dick jokes, I asked if her company had an employee handbook and if she had spoken with her HR department.

Oh, I can’t do that,” she said, shrugging off the situation. “I mean, it’s not like I’m being groped in the hallway or anything like that.”

So, if you’re not being groped in the hallway, your concerns are not “big” enough to demand attention and resolution?

While much has been said and written about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace and many companies have formal guidelines that serve as grounds for discipline and dismissal, it doesn’t mean that women still don’t face countless incidents that mar their experience and set a tone of Everyday Sexism at Work.

This, by no means, is meant to compare to injustices of substantial harassment, sexual assault, physical assault, threats and retaliation. As I document below infractions both big and small, I want to be clear on that.  For more on the depth and widespread nature of the problem, you only need to look at the political and entertainment headlines.  And read my interview with “Be Fierce” author Gretchen Carlson.

And yet, the ease with which I was able to compile this list, based on my own experiences and those shared by others, is both infuriating and worthy of review.  So read on and you tell me, have you experienced any of these things?  Others?  What did you do about them?  Are they a Big Deal or just things to Deal With?  Here’s a list of 30, in no particular order:

  • Distinguishing between female colleagues by saying, “No, I’m not talking about her, I mean the pretty one…
  • Asking only the senior woman on your team – not the men of more junior level – to order cupcakes, mend wardrobe or take notes at the meeting. Worse if request is accompanied with “because you know about these things” (unless her line of work happens to cupcakes, tailoring or note-taking, of course).
  • Praising a male employee for being a “good dad” when he leaves work early to coach his son’s Little League game but questioning a woman’s commitment to the job when she asks to work from home to care for a sick child.
  • Using gender-specific insults to describe a situation (i.e. “He’s an attention whore,” “This is a bitch of an assignment,” “Let’s gang-bang on this idea…”)
  • Announcing “Sun’s out, guns out!” when a woman wears an arm-bearing top.
  • Jumping in to explain a female colleague’s point at a meeting (“What Jane is trying to say…”) rather than letting her make it and responding in support.
  • Noting how “tense” a female colleague seems and giving or offering a shoulder rub.
  • Inviting a woman to a meeting at the last minute when you notice your side of the table has no female representation, even if she doesn’t have the requisite background to add to the topic. Also, assuming it’s OK that your only female attendee at the meeting is your assistant who booked the room.
  • Handing the cake knife to a female colleague and allowing her male colleagues to await being served their slice at an office party. Similarly, letting men leave the room without first throwing away their trash and assuming someone else will clean up after them.
  • Mansplaining to her how it should be rather than merely offering your opinion for consideration, particularly when she is the expert in the field.
  • Penalizing women for demonstrating the same qualities that are praised in men and that often get men promoted. Similarly, excusing behavior from men that women are held accountable for (“George has such passion for this topic, that’s why he yells at his team“).
  • Suggesting that her bad mood is in any way due to her time of the month. (No, just no…)
  • Labeling emotional or undesirable behavior from men in anti-female terms (“Stop being such a girl about it…”)
  • Getting angry or insulted if she doesn’t thank you for the compliments you’ve offered, particularly when those compliments are about her attire or appearance.
  • Reaching over to adjust her bra strap if it is showing.
  • Rewarding women for good performance with development opportunities while rewarding men with promotions in title and pay. When she inquires about the latter, telling her she should just be happy with what she already has.
  • Asking how was “that woman thing” when she returns from a women’s leadership conference.
  • Allowing sales contacts or vendors to acknowledge her with “always good to have a pretty woman on the team.”
  • Downgrading her responsibilities or thinking that putting her on the “mommy track” after her return from maternity leave is what she’d want without first speaking with her about her plans and needs. Also, presuming when she announces her pregnancy that she won’t be returning to work after she has the baby.
  • Being afraid to have important conversations or withholding essential feedback because you worry she’s “fragile” or will “get upset.
  • Leaving her off of invites for lunch or outside of work events open to men because you worry some may take it as a sign of something more than a meeting between colleagues.
  • Making deals at single-sex events and locations (i.e. basketball league or the men’s locker room) where women are not present.
  • Telling a female colleague her insistence of integrity or expression of anger is “cute.
  • Suggesting she smile or flirt more or wear a particular outfit to a sales meeting to close the deal.
  • Declaring her foresight and correctly predicted end result is due to “female intuition” and not her knowledge of the situation and subject.
  • Insisting she demonstrate her passion for the company by getting involved in volunteer events and extracurriculars while making no such requirement for men.
  • Responding to her request for more challenging assignments with busy work.
  • When she does something thoughtful or caring for her team, responding with “Thanks, Mom” or referring to her as the team’s “Mother Hen.”
  • Asking her to help pick out a gift for your wife or girlfriend, particularly if that gift is lingerie or otherwise personal in nature.  Bringing up undergarments as a topic at all.
  • Presuming that if she’s nice she can’t be good at her job and if she is good at her job then she must be a bitch.  And worse, openly referring to her as such.

So, what did I miss? Feel free to add your own in comments. While some are often shrugged off, others are infuriating, particularly when experienced as a collective whole.

We’ve come a long way and yet there is so much further to go.

 A version of this article was originally published by the author on LinkedIn on July 23, 2017.  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/everyday-sexism-what-looks-like-valerie-gordon/
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