Combating and Dealing with Sexism in the Workplace

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WomenSexism in the workplace comes in many forms and is still a major problem today. And sexism doesn’t have to come in the form of overt sexual harassment, there are more subtle ways women are discriminated against in the workplace.

While women comprise 46% of the total U.S. labor force, they still make by last count only 77.5 cents for every dollar that men earn, according to the U.S. Census. And amazingly, the more education a woman has, the greater the wage gap. Data reveals that women in professional specialty jobs earn only 72.7 percent of what men earn in the same position. Women in upper level executive, administrative, and managerial positions make just 72.3 percent of men’s salaries. And overall, 59 percent of female workers make less than $8 an hour.  And in nearly every field, women earned less than their male peers in 99 percent of all occupations.

The gender wage gap hits minority women hardest as African-American women make just 64 cents to every dollar earned by white men, Hispanic women earn only 52 cents per dollar.

We questioned a couple of experts on how to address and hopefully help end sexism in the workplace. Here are their answers:

TNJ.com: What are the first steps a woman show take when faced with sexism on the job?

Keep a record of it. “Document it. Alert a supervisor–and this is important: just once. The ball is in their court. But continue to as attorneys say, “Document, document, document.” A paper trail with a timeline is always helpful. A tape recorder is better. A video is best of all,” says Bonnie Russell of Personal Public Relations, who herself has dealt with sexism on the job.

Realize that sexism comes in many forms. It can be as subtle as being dismissed. “Many women are subjected to sexism and they come in the form of micro-inequities daily. An example could be as simple as when a woman talks in a meeting the men look away at their phone or don’t listen,” notes Master Certified Executive Coach & Diversity Strategist Dr. Cherry A. Collier, an organizational psychologist and owner of Personality Matters, Inc. “Because many Human Resources departments need a lot of information to support a claim, my advice when this happens is:  A: Awareness – Ask the person were you aware when you did X, I felt Y?; S: Say something that affirms who you are and the value of all people. Micro affirmation (micro affirmations: convey inclusion, respect, trust and genuine willingness to see others succeed); K: Keep an eye on your own language. Stay away from saying things like: don’t be such a girl; or man up!”

The tech industry was recently called out as being one of the most sexist sectors. It is now a well-documented fact that the industry is dominated by white males. And according to a Harvard Business Review study from 2008, as many as 50 percent of women working in science, engineering and technology will, over time, leave because of hostile work environments.

TNJ.com: So why is the tech industry in particular still plagued with sexism?

According to Russell, it’s ingrained in the culture–at least for now. “Because tech nerds have seldom been held accountable during their teenage and college years, due in no small part to a clueless/disinterested law enforcement, and the easily acceptable anonymity of the Internet. They haven’t grown up yet,” chastises Russell, who has had first-hand experience with the issue in the tech sector.

“In my younger years when working on the construction jobs site for the PacBell building in San Ramon, California, I noticed a sign on the desk of the secretary for the CEO, who was essentially in charge of the 93 subcontractors. The sign said, ‘We don’t report sexual harassment–but we do grade it,’ “ she recalls.  “The main weapon for sexual harassment is and remains, laughter.”

And, Russell says that like diversity, the tech industry must face the issue in order to solve it. “With the advent of the Internet, both women and tech industry leaders must first recognize sexual harassment for the criminal behavior it is,” she says.

TNJ.com: How can one affect change in the tech sector?

“Women need to go large when dealing with sexism. Gradually, second generation women in the tech industry are not as willing to smile and get along to go along as the first tiers women have been,” suggests Russell.

TNJ.com: How can women avoid backlash from complaining about sexism in the office?

Speaking out can have consequences that can affect a woman’s career. So the dilemma remains, speak out or stay quiet. But says Russell, this choice should be to fight against sexism. “It’s not possible to avoid backlash. It would be dishonest to imply they can. But that is never a reason to be quiet and become an after-the-fact, accessory on behalf of the perpetrator. Every woman I know wishes she would have spoken up sooner. Not later,” she points out.

Adds Dr. Collier, you should seek out support. “The most important thing is to find champions and people that can wave your flag when you are not in the room. Enroll other people to defend the behavior as well. Try not to fight the war alone. Find allies,” she notes.

TNJ.com: How can one deal with backlash without destroying her career?

There are things you can do to protect yourself when speaking out against sexism in the workplace. “Be persistent and firm about it. If you are constantly sharing micro-affirmations it helps to offset the negativity. How you address the issue is just as important as the issue itself. Be direct, clear and consistent. Separate the behavior from the person and stop the behavior by nipping it in the bud. Because many people are not aware of their hidden biases, it’s good to address it with them and educate them on how the behavior is a challenge for you,” advises Collier.