“Thanks, sweetie.” Although he hadn’t done anything as Mad Men-esque as grabbing my butt, the CEO of a local non-profit might has well have. I’d recently started my consulting practice, and had offered to do some pro bono work with his board of directors to get my name out there. After 6 weeks of busting my butt delivering great work, he dropped the ‘sweetie’ comment.
Ask any woman and she’s got a story about experiencing everyday sexism that’s just subtle enough to make it hard to call out. Whether it’s the guy in the office whose eyes can’t quite seems to make it above boob level, being asked to grab the coffee for the meeting, an uncomfortable hand on the shoulder or being told to ‘smile more’, it’s important to tackle these bro moments head on. Here are three ways to make that happen.
1. If it feels weird, demeaning, inappropriate or uncomfortable, trust your gut and speak up in the moment. You didn’t imagine it, he really DID just do that. The faster you address it, the less likely the behavior is to continue. I tend to take a two-pronged approach and give the guy involved an out while also using humor. In the case of the non-profit CEO, I came back with a quick, “You’re welcome, David. Or should I call you pumpkin, since we’re using terms of endearment?” Once that registered with him, I followed up with, “I’m guessing you didn’t mean to call me sweetie – you’re too professional for that.” And I gave him a HUGE smile.
If you miss the moment, it’s okay to come back later and take the same approach. Whether right then or later, speak up! If you don’t feel comfortable having that conversation alone, tell someone you trust what went down and ask them to be with you when you have the conversation.
2. Be the voice in the room for other women. If you see someone else being subjected to micro-aggression, call it out quickly. We give everyday sexism power when we don’t speak up and let things slide. It can be as simple as, “Hey, have you all noticed that every time we ask for a volunteer to take the meeting notes everyone looks at Maria? We should really take turns on that so everyone shares the load.” If it’s a situation that’s better addressed afterwards, make sure you still take action. Be sure to let the other woman know that you saw what happened, had her back, and talked to the guy involved. It is incredibly powerful when a third party steps up and calls it like she sees it.
Ask any woman, and she’s got a story to share about everyday sexism. It’s time to take a stand, bust through bro and stop micro-aggressors in their tracks.
3. Engage men. This is not just a women’s problem that we need to ‘lean in’ to. To combat everyday sexism, we need to shed light on it and own it as a team. We need to create an understanding with the guys we work with about what these micro-aggressions look and feel like. This gives them the ability to have their radar up and call it out when they see it.
Start, or ask your Fairygodboss to initiate, a conversation about everyday sexism and micro-aggression. Most people really do want to create an inclusive environment, and a little education and discussion go a long way towards creating commitment to that. Ask everyone to commit to ‘if you see something, say something.’
It’s totally possible to break through bro and deal with everyday sexism. Speak up for yourself and other women, use humor, engage men and create a team norm of calling it as you see it. Say goodbye to ‘sweetie’!
Mo is the Founder of The Moxie Exchange, a training and peer mentoring organization for companies who want to recruit, develop, promote and retain women and create inclusive workplaces. She’s an advisor to CEOs of the nation’s fastest growing companies and is the founder 5 successful businesses. She also been known to sing loudly, dance badly and curse like a sailor.
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