How To Stand Up To Workplace Sexism - My Story
Hello hello wonderful people,
It’s so lovely to see you here!
I am super grateful you are spending some of your precious time and energy with me today.
This post is all about standing up to sexism at work, I'll share my story, my strategy and my belief that it will take bravery from us all to create a better world for all women.
Firstly, shall we define the problem? What is workplace sexism?
""Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women,
on the basis of sex, in the workplace.""
Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start - oh how I love a good musical quote!).
I grew up in a wonderfully supportive family (including an ace working Mum role model), I had great friends, I had spent 5 years at university getting 2 degrees, I entered the working world confidently and in an industry I loved - events.
Now the working world had 2 big surprises for me - neither of which I had been educated about, or given the tools to work through. Workplace bullying and a culture which passively accepts this, and workplace sexism.
I had been told my whole life that a woman can have it all, and achieve her dreams.
It never occurred to me that people would actively disagree, and discriminate against me.
Fast forward to fresh professional me leaving a role due to the workplace culture and bullying within. My manager responded to this with;
"Well, you were my wildcard - putting a young women into this senior role."
Let's unpack this - a "wildcard" is an unusual, uncommon and risky move, which is not expected to yield great results.
Is hiring women into leadership roles risky, and unlikely to yield great results?
A shocking comment, but what's more shocking is at the time I thought this to be acceptable, and to be true.
As I took in this comment, and looked around the office to see every other person in a similar role was a man at least 10 years older than me, I thought my manager was correct.
Now I want to shout at my younger self - no, no NO! It's not you. This is not OK.
It took me a long time to realise how unacceptable this comment was, and to recognise that I had faced workplace sexism for years,. I was not educated in recognising it, and standing up to it.
My mission now includes ensuring no other woman finds herself in this situation.
The ""wildcard" comment above stayed with me for a long time, and the limiting belief it triggered led me to tell myself that my age and gender would be factors in my success. This held me back, and made me question myself.
Fast forward a few years and roles, and I found myself working with an amazing recruitment agent to go for an exciting new role.
When interviewed by the male hiring manager, I was not "seasoned enough", and my application was unsuccessful.
When then interviewed by this man's female manager (she was curious and wished to meet me), I was the preferred candidate.
I got the role. And was very successful in it.
I never had the courage to ask either exactly what went on there, but I know a strong confident man my age would have been treated differently.
Slightly later in my career, when discussing an internal promotion with a male hiring manager and the role's salary, he said:
"That's a lot of money for a young woman without a family."
It is the advertised salary for the role, one which I have all the relevant skills and experience for, and would be amazing in.
My age, and family circumstances, are not factors here. The sole factor is my ability to do this role well.
I declined this role (you're not surprised are you??).
My career and success continued, and I had some incredible professional opportunities which taught me so much, and helped me become the competent, secure, authentic leader I am today.
However, in 10 years and 9 full time roles, I have only ever reported to a female manager once. That was a 3 month contract. And that's a *whole* other blog post - coming soon!
Now, the incidence of workplace sexism which really resonated and shocked me, was also the catalyst to me standing up and vowing never again to accept sexism at work.
I am applying for a role, I have had 2 interviews, and have mentioned my salary expectations in the 2nd - the number was noted, and no further questions were asked.
The role was then offered to me, on a conference call, but with a significantly - almost 20% - lower salary than discussed previously.
As I digested this offer, the male manager then said:
"It's OK Vari - just buy less shoes."
These 4 words will forever echo in my soul - just. buy. less. shoes.
No, no, NO!
(While we are on the subject, that sentence isn't even grammatically correct.)
This would not have been said if I were a man. Or an older woman.
Score 2 - a sexist AND an ageist comment.
Firstly, what I spend my salary on is none of your business.
Secondly, I have no interest in working for less than my worth.
Finally, how dare you make a flippant comment which devalues me when you make a poor offer. You are in the wrong.
Unsurprisingly, I declined this offer.
As I shared this story with my mentor and professional network, I realised that if women do not highlight, stand up to, and report this sexism nothing will ever change.
Encouraged by some wonderful women, I contacted that company's HR team and reported what had happened.
I am sharing this in the sincere hope that other women are inspired to do the same.
And people review their prejudices, stereotypes and behaviours.
Are you guilty of sexism at work?
The End (For Now)
This isn't the end, there will not be an end for me until we eliminate workplace sexism, but it is the most recent chapter.
All of the above has taught me to recognise, report and stand up to workplace sexism.
It should never be tolerated.
But it should also never damage a woman's confidence, love for herself, or career aspirations and ambitions.
I will no longer allow it to impact mine.
The most recent incident I would like to share is this.
Said by a (yes, you guessed it - male) colleague, to my manager:
"Why have you hired some girl with no experience?"
Firstly, I am in my 30s and am not "some girl".
Secondly, I have a decade of experience in leadership in this industry.
This statement is factually incorrect. It will not impact me.
Sexist comments no longer impact my confidence, my love for myself, or how I smash success at work.
They now only provide learning opportunities for those holding sexist views, chances to stand up for what I believe in, and inspire others to do the same.
My next post - right here - will be on my strategy for standing up to sexism.
For those facing sexism at work - you are not alone.
It takes so much courage to share, and to stand up.
But know this - you are helping to create a world of equality for your friends, colleagues, nieces, daughters and all women.
Who's with me?
There will be challenges, so always remember this:
"Nevertheless She Persisted".
And she changed the world.