A guide to tackling casual sexism at the workplace

Last Updated 01 March 2021, 09:49 IST

Even after all the hue and cry of the ‘MeToo’ movement, sexism and inappropriate behaviour continues to exist in the workplace.

Being more aware of the consequences has probably made perpetrators think twice about their actions.

However, there is an insidious evil that lurks around at work — casual sexism.

Why is this ‘insidious’?

First, because adding the word 'casual' seems to indicate that the issue isn’t serious. And two, because most of us barely notice it.

For the uninitiated, casual sexism or everyday sexism refers to comments, actions and behaviour at the workplace that are coloured by assumptions made based on gender.

If you are a woman navigating the corporate world, here are a few points that could help you in the long run. At the same time, take these suggestions with a pinch of salt because every situation is unique. And the last thing any of us need is being told what to do.

It is okay to be offended and angry

Feeling pressured to act as if a comment does not bother you or pretend like you know how to take it in your stride is the byproduct of conditioning. A lot of us grew up being told that women are overly emotional and that this is somehow a weakness.

Well, if being emotional is what it takes to curb people from making comments about what women can and can't do, then some 'drama' is worth it.

Something that doesn't offend other women can still offend you.

That's right. Your feelings are still valid. At times, a comment from a colleague — say about what you are wearing — can seem inappropriate to you but not to other women. That is no reason to not be vocal about it. A lot of us, including women, say things without realising that they can be offensive. And some of them might appreciate being sensitised so that they can check themselves.

Own what you know and what you don't

Comments about what women can or cannot do are not uncommon in the workplace. For example, a woman who is good with numbers is considered an anomaly - even celebrated.

This narrative can make it hard for women to own up about what they don't know because they worry it will make them seem weak.

Identify what's wrong and call it out

Men are typically called 'assertive' and women in similar situations are labelled 'aggressive'. Being told that you are not like other women is apparently a compliment. Some of these microaggressions can be hard to identify because they are so commonplace but we owe it to ourselves to look for them and correct these every chance we get.

Even if it is meant as a joke, a simple 'I don't see how that is funny' can do the trick. If that doesn’t work, you can tackle the issue through your manager or HR

These are just a few of the ways that casual sexism rears its head and can be tackled. Bringing attention to this could help our productivity and a company's growth in the long run.

But a few thoughts before we end this

One, women should check themselves for sexist comments and behaviour as well. We could be as much a part of the problem.

A seemingly innocuous example is how a lot of us use 'he' more than 'she' when describing hypothetical situations at work — 'We expect him (the candidate) to hit the ground running.' or 'Will he (the customer) care for this feature.'

Two, the appropriate word to use is 'they'. After all, male and female are not the only genders. And as a gender that is on the receiving end of sexism, we should be overly cognizant of this.

(The author is a marketing professional)

(Published 22 February 2021, 12:57 IST)

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