How to Deal with a Sexist Boss: 22 Great Tips

Mad Men cab portraying sexist boss scene
National Post

I know it’s 2017 but shockingly workplace sexism still exists. The difference is that now women not only face prejudice from men but also women that are in higher positions, the reason is unknown – maybe because they feel threatened? Working for a sexist manager can lower your morale, damage your confidence and stunt your career growth. It’s time to put an end to this bullying and show all chauvinistic bosses what strong and powerful women we are.

Without further ado, here are the top tips to deal with a sexist boss:

1. Turn the tables

If your manager says something to you that’s sexist, ask them if they would have said the same thing if you were a man. For example, a male or female colleague has commented that your dress is tight. You can politely ask them if they “would have said the same thing to a male coworker?” You don’t have to use a threatening tone; you can use humour, the main point is that you get your hint across loud and clear.

2. Ask why you’rebeing targeted for a certain task

Your horrible manager keeps asking you to make the meeting coffees and fetch the post from the reception, yet your male colleagues get off the hook. If you notice a frequent pattern, pull your boss aside and simply ask why you are being targeted for these tasks. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you can suggest that your male colleague is chosen as you have too much work.

3. Have a private talk

It’s natural instinct for people in higher positions to get defensive if you confront them in front of a group. If the subtle sexism is getting to you and you are unsure of how to handle it, a good idea would be to request a private chat. The person you are talking to may not even realise that they are doing this and that it affects you, a friendly reminder that it’s not okay is sometimes all that they need.

4. Don't add fuel to the fire

If someone makes a joke in the office, people tend to laugh even if they don’t find the joke funny. Even if your boss is the jokester, if it’s offensive don’t laugh and make eye contact with him and keep an emotionless expression. That moment of discomfort may make him take time to think about what’s they said.

5. Ask them to repeat it

Cringe alert! So to do this, again you need to keep an impassive expression and simply ask them to repeat what they said (even though they know you have heard). Once they listen to what they are really saying they should realise that it’s not acceptable.

6. Ask for an explanation

If the subtleness isn’t working, ask why they said that. For example, if your manager has just said something stupid like “is it that time of the month again?” you can respond by saying “huh? Why would you think I’m menstruating?” It’ll soon make them shrivel to the ground.

7. Say no

If you have really come to the end of your tether and heard yet another sexist remark, you can simply say “that’s inappropriate” and move on.

8. Make a joke out of it

If you find yourself ignored in a meeting or left out of afternoon lunch, then the quickest way to deal with it is to make a joke, one with a sharp point. If your boss credits your colleauge for your idea in a meeting, it’s fine to say gently “great idea. Although didn’t I say that 10 minutes ago?” The trick is to smile; it shows you’re not angry, you are just stating a fact.

9. Let them in on your plans

Disgustingly, young women are faced with misogyny at the time in their lives when they decide to settle down. It’s often viewed that if you get married, you automatically want to start a family, the company then write you off as they think you’ll be leaving soon. GET WITH THE PROGRAMME BOSSES, not everyone’s life-long goal is to rush into a family, and if so they might take a reduced maternity and come back to work shortly after. If you feel like this issue will occur, pull your manager aside and let them in on your plans, you’ll be surprised as to how quick their behaviour will change.

10. Get a second opinion

If you are unsure if your manager is being sexist towards you, ask another professional woman about your experience. If they work in a largely dominated male firm they will be able to give you an insight into other working environments. It will also guide you on what step to take next.

11. Know when to walk away

Sometimes people aren’t worth you wasting your breath or a second on them. If any of the above steps really won’t make a difference, simply walk away and take the high road knowing that you are a better person than them.

12. Be bold, subtle and clear

Do you feel like you’re given certain work because you’re a woman? It’s not your job to set up team events, so if you’re the only person being asked to do so, simply say “I can’t do it this time as I have too much of my own work to do. Mike has less on than me, I’m sure he can help you.”

13. Prime the audience

If you know you’re going to have a meeting with 20 odd men, including your sexist boss and you’ve experienced prejudice in this environment before, you could say something like “as the only woman in this room”. Let them know that you don’t accept any kind of cr*p.

14. Call them out

Chanel your inner diva and call a bully out there and then. HBR reported that “addressing offensive behaviour in the right way in the moment can change it in the future.” If you are holding a meeting and your boss keeps addressing their questions or comments to another male colleague you could say in a joking way, “excuse me Calum, I’m over here…” or if you want to be more discreet you could say “thank you for asking David that good question…”

15. Boy teasing

Sometimes biting back can only make the sexist comments increase. A good way to handle it is by joking. You could continue their joke by asking questions to the point where it makes them feel uncomfortable.

16. Practise your comebacks

Being stereotyped can catch you off guard and you’ll find yourself thinking ‘I should have said this… or that…’ Stop wishing and start rehearsing; grab a male friend and go through some role play so you can have a witty comeback ready for the next verbal attack.

17. Get yourself a male ally

Having a male coworker on your side can make all the difference. Make a pact with one of your male colleagues and ask them to defend you in meetings. He could say something simple like: “As Jane was saying…”

18. Compile a list of bad boss behaviour

Keep a report of all the circumstances where you faced prejudiced remarks from your boss. If it really gets out of control it’s important to have documentation of all the instances if you decide to take the matter further, or simply if you want to confront them.

19. Take it to HR

If all your personal tactics fail, you always have the support of your HR department. Before you do go and speak to them ensure you have planned what you want to say and take your documented list with you. A good idea is to practice your train of thoughts rather than rambling on and being overly emotional.

20. Get a lawyer

We’re not saying that you should get a lawyer before addressing the issue with the instigator and your HR department. However, if the problem persists and is getting brushed off like Susan Fowler experienced when working for a large organisation, then you must do something about it. An employment lawyer will be able to lay out all your options and give you clear advice on your next steps.

21. Build a support network

Constant abuse will end up making you feel deflated and unhappy. If you’re going through a tough time, build a great support network at work and at home. It’s important to have trusting, positive people around you that will lift you up, give you a confidence boost and advice on how to tackle the sexist remarks.

22. Remember it's not about you

Unfortunately, sometimes people’s backgrounds simply make them chauvinistic pigs and sadly they don’t realise they are making remarks that are not okay. They aren’t directing it personally at you, it’s just that they don’t know any different, or better. Try not to take everything to heart and build a thick skin when you are in your working environment.

Hopefully, after reading these tips you are fully prepared and fighting fit to tackle your sexist boss heads on. Remember you are a lady, after all, so keep calm, cool and collected.

Have you ever been faced with sexism in the workplace? If so, how did you handle it? Drop us a comment in the box below to let us know.

This article was originally published in August 2015.