Smart Women Speak: On Sexism In The Workplace

May 9, 2017

This is my friend Liza. Liza is an animal welfare activist and Capitol Hill professional in Washington D.C. She is also one of my oldest and dearest friends. If I had to describe her in one sentence, I would just steal it from Tina Fey. “She could go to a party and get a number from a wreath.”

Q: What would you say to a young woman facing sexism in the workplace?

A: Grow thick skin. Find yourself mentors. If you’re in a room full of men and women equals, don’t take on the role of getting everyone water or making copies. That’s not your job. Don’t take on the assistant role unless you’re an actual assistant. If someone makes a sexist comment as a “joke,” put on your best poker face and move on. Most of all, lift other women up. Sometimes we can be just as harmful to each other, and the best way to to change other people’s bad behavior is to model the better way ourselves.

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This is Bekah. For the past seven years she has worked in a cultural institution in Germany. From Bekah–> “Work in the cultural field tends to be more female dominated, however, all too often it consists of female staff with male dominated positions of power. I experienced structural and cultural sexism on a near-daily basis: unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate comments, degrading expectations, and devaluation of work.”

Q: What advice would you give to a young woman facing sexism in the workplace?

A: First decide what causes are worth fighting for. Outrage for every slight is exhausting. Spend time thinking about what is worth the emotional fight. For example, I decided that getting worked up every day because women were often stuck doing “housework” jobs like unloading the dishwasher in the staff kitchen was too much to fret about. If I was bothered by the state of the kitchen and chose to do something about it, that was my choice. On the other hand, I refused to let my ideas and contributions be commandeered by male co-workers in meetings. Thoughtful consideration of the causes worth going to bat for saved me from expending too much emotional energy on the subject and put me in control – I proceeded more thoughtfully and powerfully when I moved away from giving the same weight to all forms of inequality in the workplace.

Second, find your allies and stick up for your sister friends. There is power in numbers and in knowing that someone has got your back. Finding other like-minded people in my workplace (both male and female) empowered me to take action when necessary and appropriate.

And finally, change your changeables. Sometimes the greatest thing you can hope to change is the future. Live as an example of a strong, equal worker and those who are open and learning will see and accept. I worked with many interns in my job and saw that as an area in which I could influence job assignments and create a culture of workplace equality. We are the hope for the future.

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This is Betsy. Betsy is a hard working feminist living in Eastern PA. She has faced gender discrimination and sexual advances by two different managers in her career in the last decade. 

Q: What advice would you give to a young woman facing sexism in the workplace?

A: Always walk into the room projecting confidence and operating under the assumption that you’re (at least) equal to every other person. Always try to address sexism, big or small, directly with the person in private. Sometimes people are clueless, so try to teach. If that doesn’t work or it’s not safe, be brave and report it. The next woman might not be as strong. Don’t let anyone tell you to lighten up or get a sense of humor. It ain’t funny. Find a mentor you trust, male or female. The only way to change the culture is by being part of the change. Trust yourself. I’m lucky, I was raised by a career Marine.

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