15 Tips to Combat Sexism in the Workplace

woman experiencing sexism in the workplace and silenced with tape on mouth

Your college Bob calls you “sweetheart”, makes jokes about women drivers, ‘your monthly’ and suggests that you bake the boss’s cake ‘because you’re a woman and like that sort of thing’. A lot of sexism women encounter in the workplace looks like this. Subtle enough to not be a sexual harassment case, but condescending enough to grate on your nerves and leave you feeling constantly undermined.

If you find yourself in a similar, uncomfortable situation, you need to remember that you have a voice and can combat workplace sexism by following the tips listed below:

1. Hold Your Own Ground

Women are often seen as ‘weak’ (rolls eyes at another stereotypical comment) and therefore are “known” to back down easily. The real reason is that we no longer want to hear the utter nonce sense that comes out of people’s mouths, so we take the high road and let it slide. But, maybe it’s time to stick to our guns and back up our arguments with solid data – who can argue with facts right? Jessica Bennet, author of Feminist Fight Club said: “Statistics can be your verbal karate. Anytime somebody tries to argue against this stuff, I just try to hit them with data.”

2. Don’t Apologise for What You Believe in

Another thing us polite women tend to do is apologise too much. A simple example is an apology after a “sneeze”. Why am I sorry that I sneezed? It’s just human nature. You may have thought of an idea you truly believed in, it got shut down and ridiculed by your male colleague, you then apologise for wasting anyone’s time. Next time those 5 letters are on the tip of your tongue, take a second to think about whether you actually need to say them.

3. Undermine the Bully

A good way to handle gender-based remarks is to treat the bully like a child. If a child makes an inappropriate comment you would tell them that it’s wrong. In this instance, you must do the same thing. You can either make light of the situation, or simply tell them to “tone it down”.

4. Own Your Speaking Voice

If your coworker is constantly making inappropriate sexist remarks at work make sure you speak up. You don’t have to be as loud as your male colleague, even if you’re softly spoken don’t be afraid to share your thoughts. “If you were to take into account all of the different ways it seems other people would like us to speak, you would never to be able to get out a sentence without your brain exploding” according to Newsweek.

5. Lead by Example

If you work in a male-dominated industry and are faced with misogyny at work you need to take control and put your sexist colleagues in their place. You have to set the standards and act as a role model for your other female coworkers. If you don’t do it, who will? You don’t have to change your behaviour and act entirely out of character, but you don’t need to brush off every comment that bothers you either.

6. Take Credit When It's Due

If you’re that woman, who like me, receives a compliment and then tries to excuse it with an  “oh it wasn’t that big of a deal…” or “I couldn’t have done it without…” deflecting from the credit, then you need to stop! I know you don’t want to come off as conceited (neither do I), but when you’ve earned the praise, accept it and embrace it. Now practice with me and learn to simply say: “Thank You”.

7. Ask for What You Are Worth

On average, “a woman earns 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, and women’s median annual earnings are $10,800 less than men’s”, according to a report released by the Senate Joint Economic Committee Democratic Staff last April. So how do we deal with this gender pay gap? You need to gather evidence and results of your work and ask for a bonus at work. Women in general often undervalue themselves and think that they deserve what they are getting, but don’t know their true worth. If you’re in doubt, look on Payscale and Glassdoor to see what your male competition is receiving.

8. It's Okay to Say No

Do you keep being asked to do the coffee round for the next board meeting and take notes for the minutes and arrange food for the next breakfast meeting whilst your male colleague gets off lightly? Yet, you’re afraid to say no in case you’re seen to be “lazy” or “uninterested”? Don’t worry, it’s perfectly fine to say no from time to time. You aren’t the office mum so you don’t need to do all the chores- what happened to teamwork anyway? Next time you’re stuck in a tricky situation, ask your male colleague to help out too.

9. Confrontation Is Key

We all swear that we will confront anyone who says something sexist toward us and deal with it calmly. But, the fact of the matter is that we are usually too shocked or disgusted to act logically in that instance and end up saying nothing. In one study, “68% of women said that they would refuse to answer sexually harassing questions in a job interview, and 28% said they would openly confront the interviewer. But when the interview actually happened, all of the women answered the offensive questions, and not one confronted the interviewer.” Is this because we don’t want to be seen as complainers? Either way, confronting your offender is a good coping mechanism; at least you know you’ve done all you can and have brought awareness to the situation.

10. Form a Support Group

Just as Jessica Bennet did with her Feminist fight club, you too can form a support group of women in your niche or area. All it takes is to gather a few women from the same networking group together to get the ball rolling. If you need support and encouragement you’ll have it. You’ll also feel more empowered with back-up and feel more confident when dealing with your sexist colleague. You too could end up like Jessica, who is now a best-selling author and role model in the feminist world.

11. Brush off the Hoverer

Unfortunately, some offices have a “Hoverer”; he’s the creepy guy constantly invading your personal space and is minutes away from asking you out (even though it’s against company policy). Like clockwork, he’s at your desk, without any warning, having a discussion with you, but is actually just staring down your shirt, creeping you out. So how do you banish the hoverer once and for all?  Start making yourself unavailable; don’t engage in conversation, plug your headphones in, look away, call your own voicemail if you have to. Do anything to get you out of engaging in that awful discussion.

12. Stop Self Sabotaging

If you’re anything like me, you’re a massive over thinker, and with overthinking often comes doubt. It’s the little voice that ends up chipping away at your confidence.  “The feeling that even when you get the promotion, you’re undeserving, unprepared; or the sense that one mistake means you should probably just give up” as mentioned in the Guardian. But, you need to stop self-sabotaging. Remember how you got to the position you are in and don’t ruin your own chances. You need to own what you’ve managed to accomplish and be proud.

13. Ask for What You Want

You need to learn how to ask for what you want, not the neutered, self-compromised version you think you can get. People, especially women, often don’t do this, which is one reason the wage gap still exists. Think about what you truly want and go out and get it. If you want an extra day holiday, or a new chair because your back is killing you, put in a request.  If you don’t ask – you don’t get!

14. Document Everything

If the misogyny has become uncontrollable and has you dreading to step foot into the office then you need to take the complaint further and report it to HR. For you to have a fighting case, you must have proof of what you are saying. Otherwise, it’s your word against theirs, and if it’s a male-dominated company, you know how that will go down. Start documenting every incident, what was said/done and the time and place. Email copies are also great proof to keep stored away.  

15. Make Sure Your Complaint Is Taken Seriously

In some cases, HR just brush off the harasser, sometimes paying them off to leave the company and not actually giving you the justice you deserve. Que, the new website, AllVoices, that allows you to anonymously report sexual harassment at work. According to Cosmopolitan “The data will then be emailed directly to their boss and those in senior positions, who are able to take the required action.” This genius new site allows you to have a voice without revealing your identity.

As with all of these tools, women shouldn't have to do any of them. But, fighting back to tackle your sexist coworker head-on will make the workplace more bearable and comfortable for you and your other colleagues.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? If so, how did you handle it? Let us know in the comment section below.