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Sexism in the Workplace, and How to Counter It

To some people, sexism might seem like a thing in the past, but to others, it’s still a stark part of their reality. No matter what your job is, sexism exists, and sometimes in ways other than what you might expect. Not every instance of sexism is calling someone out in front of all their […]

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To some people, sexism might seem like a thing in the past, but to others, it’s still a stark part of their reality. No matter what your job is, sexism exists, and sometimes in ways other than what you might expect. Not every instance of sexism is calling someone out in front of all their peers and discrediting their work because of their sex. It can be much more subtle, such as:

  • Insults disguised as jokes: The most frequent form of everyday sexism, these “jokes” are insults based on a person’s gender identity and are usually written off as a joke to diminish the seriousness of it when called out.
    • ExampleLet her know who wears the pants around here!
  • Devaluing a woman’s voice or insight: This includes, but is not limited to, men speaking over or interrupting women, men “mansplaining” a topic to a woman under the assumption that she knows nothing about the topic, women’s views not being heard or supported unless a man restates the same views, and so on.
    • Example: Asking a woman to speak to a male employee under the assumption that he’s the manager when in reality, she’s the manager.
  • Assuming that parenting and a career don’t mix: This affects both men and women. When a woman is a parent and still focuses on her career, it’s implied that she is a poor parent for making working and parenting equal in priority. Women are also questioned on their flexibility at work because she’s also a mother. Meanwhile, men don’t get the same parental rights that a mother does to care for his child, and even if he does he’s often discouraged—if not outright denied—from using those rights due to the assumption that caring for children is a “woman’s role.”
    • Example: A woman being told her career is over because she’s pregnant; a man being asked why his wife couldn’t take care of the kids when he suggests that he will.

The existence of sexism doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done about it. You don’t have to go out to a women’s rights protest to combat sexism, but there are some things you can do on a smaller scale to make it clear that sexism in your workplace is not okay:

  • When a sexist joke is made, don’t laugh along with it. Laughter validates the joke and its implications. Instead, call out the joke by asking what the speaker meant by the comment and make your stance on the subject clear: it was not okay.
  • At meetings, make sure that there’s an equal share of voices heard around the table.
  • Don’t be afraid to question assumptions about what kind of work women can and cannot do.
  • Check yourself as well—if you find yourself making these stereotypical assumptions, or any other sexist remarks, work on unlearning these and question why, exactly, you think that way in the first place.
  • Ensure equal access to flexible work schedules for both men and women within your organization, if you have the power to control that. If not, advocate for equality. 
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