There’s no doubt that sexist stereotypes exist within the workplace. Women are often expected to be self-modest team players and many are given low-value tasks and office duties that aren’t likely to benefit them. If women refuse to complete these tasks, they’re then viewed as non-team players. There’s also no shortage of sexist comments that are used on a daily basis.
It’s an unfortunate reality that many women face, especially when dealing with sexist bosses. This is much more challenging than a sexist or simply toxic co-worker, as you’ll have fewer options when seeking someone’s advice or demanding change. Perhaps you haven’t experienced this yet or believe it’s no longer an issue.
The truth is, workplace gender bias is thriving in ways that many of us do not even realize. Certain stereotypes are so embedded into our culture and brains that they often go unnoticed. A fairly recent book published in 2013, The New Soft War on Women, examines research showing that sexism still exists but it’s just not as obvious as it once was.
If you have experienced sexism within the workplace, there are right and wrong ways to handle your frustrations. If you find that your boss is sexist and hurting your career, here are a few tips to deal with their remarks, demands, and inappropriate behavior.
1. Ignore Them
Although this may not be the best solution long-term, ignoring your boss can help you develop strategies in order to properly handle the situation. Whether that means planning your exit or confronting the issue, ignoring sexist remarks can help you buy some time. If you do not think your boss will change his ways or you’re not ready to confront this issue, this is most likely the best option for you.
Although this may be viewed as impractical for some, it can actually be a powerful tool. Depending on the individual, your boss may say sexist remarks in order to get a reaction. By ignoring them and continuing with your work, you’re showing him that you’re not taking any notice.
Based on the perspective of behavioral psychologists, the more outraged or the more you give in regarding your body language, the more likely it is that your boss’ behavior will continue. This is why ignoring comments can often lead to a tapering effect over time.
If you do decide to plan your exit, then do it for you, not because your boss was a sexist jerk. Don’t feel as though you were cornered into such a decision and that exiting the company was your only option. If you do have other options, then great! Make sure you tell yourself, I am choosing to leave this company because I have options and do not deserve this type of treatment.
The advantage of this approach is, of course, less confrontation. If you think you can successfully switch off to their comments and ignore their sexist remarks, then this approach requires little emotional energy and is simple to implement. The key disadvantage is that if you feel as though you’ve lost control and leave your position, you may wish had you stood up to them.
2. Educate Them
To be honest, some people are just ignorant and/or hold different cultural views. If you would like to keep your job and avoid confrontation, educating your boss may be your best bet. To start, ask your boss if you can set up a private meeting to discuss some concerns you have. Try not to go into the meeting with a confrontational tone. Instead, appear more curious as to why they make certain remarks about women in the office and women in general.
The key here is feeling as though you’ve regained some control, as you convey important messages to your boss. Whether they listen or not will be up to them, however, at least you know you tried. You will have taken the initiative to confront their beliefs, without personally attacking them.
The main advantage here is that you’ll be able to possibly alleviate the situation without having to leave your position or create further confrontation. In some cases, women gain respect from their bosses based on their concerns and ability to tackle these issues in a responsible manner.
Of course, there’s the possibility that your boss may view this as a personal attack, making matters worse. Although this approach could end in confrontation, stand behind your views and prepare yourself for a potential debate. Prior to your meeting, do some research in order to benefit your views and to better confront sexist topics.
3. Deal with the Situation Head-On
Perhaps you have tried the first two approaches and neither has worked. It can be frustrating to feel as though you’re not being heard and that your views don’t matter. Now, if you want to deal with a sexist situation head-on, you have a few options. Remember that these will more than likely lead to confrontation but if you feel that it’s the right thing to do, stick up for yourself and others affected in your workplace.
Your first option is to formally intervene in order to resolve the issue. The second option you have is to file a formal complaint with your HR manager or human rights commissioner. If the situation has really gotten out of hand, you may want to resort to a more legal route, suing for discrimination and mistreatment.
Regardless of the option you choose, you will need to be thoroughly prepared before you make your first move. Start by writing down all the occasions in which your boss made sexist comments or made you complete a task based on sexist beliefs. If you have been denied advancement, record the reasons why and what opportunities have not become available to you even if you’re qualified. Once you feel as though you’re prepared, it’s time to make some changes.
If you want to stay within your company, mediation is your best bet. If you’re looking to teach your boss a lesson or hold them accountable, then complaining to HR may be the best option for you. Based on the advice they provide, you may rethink your action plan. If you think there’s no hope, then legal action can be taken. If you do choose this route, you’ll need to obtain an employment lawyer.
The key advantage to dealing with sexist situations head-on is that it will most likely yield the greatest results and it is the best approach to regain a sense of control. The disadvantage of this route, however, is that you could invest a lot of emotional energy when dealing with confrontations. If you choose to take legal action, you may also need to pay a significant amount in order to experience change.
This is a tough subject and it isn’t one that will disappear anytime soon. At the end of the day, no one is worth sacrificing your health and overall self-esteem. If you find that a boss isn’t going to change or is continually bringing you and your career down, then you should begin networking to see what else is available. If you love your company, then look for transfer opportunities. Value yourself and make the right choices in order to protect your career and wellbeing.