Business etiquette tips for dealing with sexism in the workplace

Business Etiquette Tips to Deal With Sexism in the Workplace

Sexism in the workplace is still alive today. Both women and men can encounter inappropriate comments, unwanted sexual attention, or demeaning words or actions from others in the office. For ambitious professionals, this presents just one more obstacle to overcome in their climb up the corporate ladder.

There are a variety of ways to deal with sexism in the workplace. From raising the issue directly with the person responsible to notifying the HR department in a more formal manner. As a professional, you have options and you have a right to react to unwanted remarks or comments, especially if they make you feel uncomfortable or interfere with your work. The most important thing to remember is to always react in a professional manner.

In today’s post, I want to share with you tips to establish your authority in the office, and strategies you can use if you encounter sexism or other kinds of unprofessional behaviour in the workplace. These strategies will not detract from your professional image and will allow you to handle the situation with polish and power.

1. Look at What You Can Control

You can’t control other people’s comments, but you can control your reaction. Always react in a professional manner and never with pure aggression.

2. Volunteer for Presentations and Speak Up at Company Meetings

This establishes your professional ability and your commitment to the company. If your professional skills are being questioned through inappropriate comments, volunteering for high-level work can give you an opportunity to show off your true ability. It also proves to your team that you can rise to challenges in the workplace.

3. Set Boundaries With Your Coworkers and Management

Many professionals are afraid to set boundaries. However if you are continually asked to perform duties that are clearly outside of the scope of your job, then perhaps you need to start building those walls. Setting boundaries shows that you are strong and you have leadership skills. It’s also something that management will look for when choosing somebody to promote.

4. Establish Authority and Power in the Office With Your Body Language and Voice

Use your body language and voice to exert authority in the office. If you use powerful body language postures when you stand at the water cooler or sit in business meetings, and you learn how to use your voice with confidence, you can develop the reputation that you’re somebody who will not let inappropriate comments pass lightly.

5. Project Professionalism With Your Outfits

Whether you work in a traditional industry where suits are standard, or a more creative industry that is more relaxed, your outfits should never be an avenue for inappropriate comments. For women, be careful you don’t show to much skin. Short skirts, low-cut tops, or shirts with gaping button holes should not be worn in the office. The general rule is: the more skin you show, the more unprofessional you appear. For men, don’t take business casual, too casual. T-shirts with profanities or obscene images on them should kept at home.

6. Gently But Firmly Let the Other Person Know Their Comments Are Inappropriate

Use statements such as, “You realise that’s an inappropriate thing to say to me”, or “I don’t find that amusing” . The key is to let the other person know that their comment or behaviour is not welcome. Most of the time, the other person may not realise their sense of humour can be offensive to others.

7. Ask the Other Person to Explain

It often helps to move the inappropriate comment from an indirect comment the speaker probably hopes will slide by, to a direct comment. If you receive an inappropriate comment ask the other person to explain what they mean. Say “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean by that. Could you explain that joke to me?”, or “What do you mean by that?” This will force the other person to elaborate on their comment, to explain the meaning in detail and will hopefully deter them from using such comments in the future. It will have even more impact if you’re in a public setting.

8. Take Yourself Away From Conversations that Continue to Be Inappropriate

If you have used strategy 6 or 7 above to let the other person know their comments are inappropriate yet they continue, then leave the room or the area where they are. Bluntly but politely cut the conversation short by saying, “I really have to get back to my desk now”. You effectively take control of the situation and indirectly let the other person know their comments are of no interest to you.

9. Inform Your HR Department or Management

If you are facing continual or harsh sexism or discrimination in the workplace, then you may need to take a more formal and serious approach to the situation. Explain to your manager or to a person in HR that you are encountering sexism in the workplace and that it is interfering with your job and your ability to work in your team.

10. Consider Moving to Another Department or Another Company

Sometimes the situation may be unbearable and the only option you have is to completely remove yourself from it. Choosing another department or another company may be a difficult choice, especially if you have already climbed a significant way up the corporate ladder. But remember, new environments can open new doors. Perhaps the new environment will give you a more supportive environment to work in and you can catch that glass escalator all the way to the top.

Do you know anybody who has encountered sexism in the workplace? What did they do to handle the issue? Leave your comments in the section below.

[Image used in header and below courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

how to deal with sexism in the workplace

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About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox