Sexism can run rampant with a particular prominence in the workplace, especially if your career is male-dominated. Luckily, you don’t have to stand by and let it happen—here’s what you can do…
Sexism is still alive and well in our society—that much is obvious. We’ve come pretty far, but equality is an uphill battle filled with many hurdles and hitches. We experience it in everyday life, but even more in the workforce, where women make 79 cents for every dollar a man earns and are rarely given the opportunity to advance within a company. Sexism in the office can be subtle or as obvious as it is frustrating. Luckily, you don’t have to take office sexism without a fight—here are seven tips that can help you shut sexism down as soon as you see it.
1. Speak Up
Tamra Johnson, COO of FlexTeam, has often experienced being the only woman in the room throughout her career. For any woman, this can be intimidating, but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to share your ideas.
“I usually don’t want to voice an opinion until I’m pretty confident, like 90 to 100 percent confident that its accurate or the right thing to say,” says Johnson. “I’ll have this thought or idea, and I’ll be analyzing and critiquing it while the meeting is still happening. Then someone else says it and I’m like ‘Why didn’t I speak up?”
Most women aren’t a stranger to this feeling, and Johnson says it’s better say something than to miss the opportunity. Eventually, somebody else will say it or it might simply become irrelevant. Your thoughts and opinions are valuable, so share them! Women are more likely to be ignored at meetings, so the more often you speak up and share your brilliant thoughts, the better—it will help push the rest of the room to recognize you as a contributor.
2. Find An Office Ally
Johnson recalls incidents where she or other women in a meeting would share a thought or idea that would be more or less disregarded, until a male peer said it a few minutes later.
“Some [guy] says it and it’s like everyone is hearing it for the first time,” she says.
She recommends trying to find a subtle way to bring attention to the fact that you had the same idea earlier, but often, having a male ally is the most effective strategy for women trying to get their voices heard.
“It helps to have an advocate in the room, someone you trust that can help you and call it out,” says Johnson. “Having a peer or someone in the room can help call it out to others just like ‘Hey, that was her idea.'”
We know—it totally sucks that your colleagues might need to hear it from somebody else to give you credit, but hopefully after this happens enough times, they’ll realize your opinion is just as valuable coming from you as it is coming from an advocate.
3. Create Boundaries
Dr. Gilda Carle, author of Don’t Lie On Your Back for A Guy Who Doesn’t Have Yours, has experienced countless come-ons and flirtatious advantages in her career, and discovered it was up to her to set boundaries and keep her intentions from being misconstrued.
“Every time I let my guard down and was friendly it was misinterpreted,” she says. “We’re walking a tight line—Don’t be too chummy, but you can’t be too reserved because then the man who’s talking to you will feel you’re cold.”
This screams double standard—friendly men are the life of the office, while reserved guys are viewed as intelligent and focused—not cold or prudish. As Carle said, we’re walking a very fine line, so do your best. Set terms your comfortable with. If you want to go out for drinks after work with your coworkers, do it, but if you feel going out for drinks alone with Dan from the IT department might put you in a compromising position, don’t do it. Enjoy yourself and create relationships, but make sure you’re picking up on signals your co-workers are sending and acting accordingly.
4. Work In Your Pay Grade
It’s natural to want to stand out and show your dedication to a job, but Johnson cautions against taking on a ton of work that’s below your pay grade. “Sometimes men expect women to be the housekeeper, organizer, or mom of the group,” she says. “But even if your inclination is to be an organizer, check yourself and don’t always fall into that role. It’s putting you at a level below your peers.” Historically, most women who worked were secretaries or preforming administrative tasks in some other way. There’s nothing wrong with these jobs, but if you were hired on as a computer scientist or business analyst, you shouldn’t have to be the note taker at every meeting. Johnson says the more often you do these tasks, the more they will come to be expected of you—so tread carefully. While your brain is busy taking notes, it might not have the opportunity to contribute in bigger, more meaningful ways. It’s great to be a team player, but make sure everybody is sharing responsibilities.
5. Remember You’re Capable
“Understand who you are and why you got the job,” says Carle.
This is important. Your hiring manager saw a smart and capable woman when he interviewed you, and that’s why you were hired. Never forget this. When you’re starting at a new company—especially in a male dominated workplace—it can be easy to doubt your worth, especially if you feel your ideas aren’t being heard valued. As long as you’re doing your best work and getting the job done, there’s no need to get down on yourself. If you want to get promoted and get noticed, just keep working hard and don’t let your co-workers push you down.
“Make it so obvious that they can’t help but see you as a leader,” says Carle. “Become such an obvious leader they can’t help but recognize your talent.”
6. Avoid Self-Sabotaging
Men tend to state their opinions as facts and share their ideas with the utmost confidence. Women, on the other hand, tend to be a lot more mild-mannered when they try to share their thoughts, often punctuating their speech with frequent self-sabotaging remarks. This can be anything from “I’m sorry if this is wrong, but…” to “I’m just wondering, can I just ask a quick question?”
“Just say what you need to say with confidence,” says Johnson. “You’re already coming from a place of disadvantage, so don’t make it worse by self-sabotaging.”
A quick fix? Johnson suggests being short, sweet, and to the point, which will help you avoid using these phrases to fill the air. Carle says these phrases make up a “language of apology” that comes from insecurity that can be hard to staunch. We get it—we’re always taught to be perfect and overly polite, but these statements are going to highlight your lack of confidence more than they’ll cover you if you’re wrong.
“You’re in charge of how people treat you, feel about you , and assess you for the future,” says Carle.
The way people react to you comes down to your behavior, so use your language to your advantage.
7. Dress To Impress
“Women are held to different standard when it comes to appearance,” says Johnson, who has spent years working in the male-dominated engineering industry. “A guy could wear khaki pants and Polos or checkered button ups every day and nobody cared at all, but… We notice what women wear. People make assumptions based on what you’re wearing.”
No surprise, women are constantly being scrutinized at the office, so take extra precautions to look as professional as possible. Take cues from what other women around the office are wearing and try to follow suit.
“You should look around you and see the people in the corner office and see how there dressing,” says Carle. “Always dress for the role you want next.”
Women have a lot to think about as they go through their days. We face double standards and expectations that men just don’t have to deal with, and it can be frustrating. We have to think about things men don’t, all in hopes of being taken seriously. That’s hard. And if it doesn’t always go right, that’s okay.
“We’re dealing with generations of learned behavior. This isn’t gonna change overnight as much as we want it to, so don’t beat yourself up,” says Johnson. “Don’t be too discouraged. Realize change will happen because of the actions we’re all taking.”
And above all, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Spending so much time worrying about how you’re presenting yourself to other people is exhausting. Be the best, most professional version of yourself at work, but don’t change just to please some chauvinistic colleagues—there will be people who like you for who you are and who will back you up on your journey to conquer office sexism.