Arising mainly from the patriarchy, sexism at work can be hard to identify, as it is integrated into the company culture and can manifest itself without particular violence… but it is harmful nonetheless. How is it expressed? How can we react to the various comments and behaviours of certain colleagues?
Various forms of sexism
Who has never had in his department fun loving man who easily indulged in little jokes, dubious inappropriate allusions, comments on physique, condescending remarks or inappropriate gestures towards a colleague? Who has never heard of cases of sexual harassment, or even sexual assault, among those around them? These explicit forms of sexism do not let us overlook the more “subtle” cases that are also found in business, based on beliefs or stereotypes. So a manager will be careful not to entrust a complex and time-consuming mission to the fair sex, doubting her skills or her availability for working outside office hours. Similarly, more speaking in a meeting will come from men, the very ones who have the unfortunate habit of interrupting their female colleagues – like the candidate Trump who interrupted candidate Clinton 51 times in the first presidential debate, compared to 17 times for her! Finally, the mansplaining syndrome, described by Jessica Bennet in her book Feminist Fight Club, is equally pernicious: the man who knows everything about everything and who goes so far as to explain to women how to think and act.
Take action, don’t isolate yourself
These various forms of sexism can have a very significant impact on the victim both personally and professionally. Here are some tips that she could use to stop this often unacceptable behaviour. First of all, keep in mind that we must not only react – to prevent the situation from getting worse – but as quickly as possible. How? Begin by asking him to repeat what he said. He may either become aware of his rudeness or be embarrassed at having done so. Then you can could rephrase his words or actions and remind him of indisputable statistics or facts: “Do you know that you are looking at my breasts and that this sexist act is punishable by law?” It is very important to stay calm and intervene without violence or aggressiveness; however, if you go out of your way after your colleague’s umpteenth sexist statement it will only surprise and even calm him forever. Be prepared also for “Oh, you don’t have a sense of humour” or “It was only a joke” with some counter-arguments such as “Actually I have a lot of humour, but sexist jokes are not funny.” In addition, don’t isolate yourself – find allies to straighten out the offender, or if necessary turn to management or HR who are supposed to protect their employees. For this, have the reflex to gather all types of evidence (emails, screenshots…). Finally, take a step back and the time to ask yourself why this statement or gesture hurt you. You will then be better disposed to react as appropriate, if necessary.
To put a final end to sexist words and actions in business, isn’t it necessary, in addition to finding solutions to the problems, to seek to deal with the causes, and particularly those of stereotypes inculcated in children from their earliest years?