No matter your job, the workplace should be a space of professionalism and respect, and that’s the expectation that many of us come to work with. A distasteful, sexist comment can completely throw us off-guard, and many may choose to act right then and there. While entirely understandable, it’s not always the safest thing to do. Learning how to handle these things correctly can save you a lot of grief and even help you ensure that something gets done about it. Let’s take a look at a few effective tips to help deal with and address sexist comments at work.
How to Deal with Sexist Comments?
Protect Yourself First
First and foremost, you may not be in the position or the environment to address a sexist comment, and your priority should be to keep yourself safe. If the comment comes from a higher-up, makes you feel unsafe, or like you need to remove yourself from the situation, get into a safe space as soon as possible.
A sexist comment can be extremely hurtful, especially from someone you thought you could professionally trust. It is not your job to educate someone who’s said something wrong, hateful, or offensive, nor is it your job to subject yourself to unnecessary pain. Take the time to observe whether your current situation is safe to respond to, but go straight to HR if you don’t feel safe speaking with that person directly.
Before responding, you should first think of what to say and how to say it, especially when you’re at work. If you decide to address the person that made the comment, the last thing you want to do is use accusatory language and not explain how what they said was wrong. Retaliating out of emotion may feel good, but even if you’re in the right, it won’t help or change anything.
Instead, take a moment to think about what they said, why it hurt you, and why they may have said that. This can help you determine how to respond or whether responding is worth it. If someone truly said something out of malice or from biases that are too deep-rooted, there may be no point in speaking with the person directly. Ultimately, when dealing with sexist comments at work, you have to conduct a sort of cost-benefit assessment in your head before you address it.
Meet With Them in Private
While you may feel like they deserve it, you don’t want to humiliate someone by calling them out in public, as this will cause them to shut down. Your best bet at getting them to be receptive is to speak with them in private. You can arrange a meeting with just the two of you or have an HR representative present as a mediator and witness. Best case scenario, they understand what they did wrong and improve. Worst case scenario, they make no apologies and hopefully receive punitive action.
However, if mediation doesn’t work, the comments persist, and management does nothing, it may be time to move on entirely. Gender discrimination can have serious impacts on the workplace and our mental health, and it’s never worth staying in a toxic environment. If you find yourself in this situation, make an exit plan as soon as possible and protect your mental health.
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