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November Blog: The Gender-Based Just Annoying Work Environment
Featuring: Nancy Droesch, Co-Founder WILLO LLC
We have all read about some truly atrocious hostile work environments that women have endured and sometimes continue to endure. We have seen vicious gender-based harassment cases that give us shivers. These are legally actionable conditions that fortunately most women do not experience.
However, have you experienced work environments while, not “hostile” to women, were annoying? You may find it hard to put your finger on why you feel exasperated by your male colleagues or you may feel like you do too many eye rolls at their actions. The annoyances never seem to be at a level that you need to take action – but they do grate on you.
You are probably experiencing microaggressions or microinequities. These are indirect, subtle, and often unintentional actions that demean, marginalize or even discriminate against you as a woman. Some examples include when the boss introduces your male colleague with glowing terms and only provides your name – or worse, doesn’t introduce you at all. Your male colleagues interrupt you in meetings or represent your ideas as their own. Male colleagues don’t make eye contact with you or even turn their bodies at an angle away from you. Outside parties speak to your male subordinate as if he is the leader rather than you. At meetings, your same-level male team members expect you to take notes, arrange for the meeting room, and do other “housekeeping” activities.
One microinequity is just that, an inequity – very tiny and not worth making an issue over. It is like a raindrop, simply no big deal. However, when they accumulate, they can dramatically affect you. Hundreds of raindrops scatter on the parking lot making puddles that you need to navigate. Torrential rainfall creates flooding and blocks your way. Many microinequities create the Annoying Workplace. Too many raindrops create a hostile workplace. If you are in a hostile workplace, seek legal counsel or a new job. If you are just avoiding small puddles, read on.
Some women choose to ignore these micro-indignities, and others choose to speak up. In deciding when to speak up, I recommend that you consider several factors. First, is it a one-off offense or is it repetitive? Someone who is well-intentioned and makes an unintentional slip can get a pass. Second, do you have a specific instance to share and a specific request to make? For example, if you have been asked to set up the room and take notes at a meeting repeatedly, then your specific ask is that the duty is passed around. A nonspecific request example is telling someone to “stop speaking down to me”. If they don’t realize that they have been doing that, this request will leave them baffled about what they need to do differently. Usually, you can find the specificity needed to have a productive request.
You also have many options on how to speak up. I worked with one team that always referred to the women as “girls” but the men as “men”. Although subtle, this speech discrepancy serves to reinforce the bias that women are not at the same level as men. I used humor to combat it. Every time someone referred to “girls”, I acted shocked and exclaimed that I didn’t know we were hiring children. At first, the men didn’t get it. Once they realized I would do this every single time they said “girls”, they changed their speech. You can point out many microinequities with humor. If your idea is stolen in a meeting, “Hey Joe, thanks for restating what I just said!” If you are being interrupted yet again, try saying, “Mike, you need to have your hearing checked. I was still talking.”
Sometimes, you can’t react at the moment, or it might embarrass someone well-intentioned but simply clueless. I encourage you to find a private moment to point out the offending behavior after you have had some time to organize your thoughts. Find a way to calmly, without anger, state the issue and how you would like it resolved. For example, “I’ve noticed that at meetings you comment on my clothing in front of everyone. While I assume you are trying to compliment my style, this focuses people on my appearance instead of my work. I’d like you to keep the focus on my work in these meetings.”
I also recommend you evaluate your own behavior. Are you guilty of micro-inequities against others? I realized that I used to use phrases like “circle the wagons.” Or going “off the reservation.” How about that for being offensive? We can all be more considerate.
Educating yourself and your team on the nature of microaggressions and microinequities can help everyone become more self-aware and work together to combat the Annoying Workplace.
Nancy Droesch co-founded WILLO LLC in 2016 to pursue her passion to help organizations reap the benefits of cultivating gender diversity. WILLO provides gender diversity strategy consulting, experienced based leadership training, and individual coaching.
Ms. Droesch launched her career in the early eighties when women were first joining the public accounting profession in equal numbers as their male peers. She was the first woman partner in the St. Louis office of Deloitte. Ms. Droesch retired from Deloitte & Touche LLP in 2014 after 33 years in progressively responsible roles including Partner in Charge of the Audit Practice in St. Louis.
Nancy is active in the community having chaired several boards including Council on Accreditation (now Social Current), Confluence (now FOCUS) and Edgewood Children’s Center. She has provided training and consulting services on board governance best practice to these and other institutions.