How to Deal with Sexism in the Workplace

Anonymous columns can be liberating, freeing, and absolutely horrifying to major companies who prefer to keep their dirty laundry in the basement. 

Facebook is the most recent company to come under scrutiny. Tuesday a former Facebook employee penned an anonymous post for The Guardian, detailing her time as a curator choosing links for Facebook's "trending" box that appear on the right side of your newsfeed.  

"Working at Facebook, even as a contractor, was supposed to be the opportunity of a lifetime. It was, instead, the most toxic work experience of my life."

The former contractor continues: 

"What I found the most destructive was how the team treated women: contrary to what Sheryl Sandberg preaches in her Lean In movement, women on the team are rarely encouraged to speak up."

The piece doesn't come as a shock. Silicon Valley is notoriously sexist. Women hold only 18% of tech jobs in the Valley. It also shouldn't come as a shock that the piece was published anonymously. Even though one in four women in the United States report experiencing sexism in the workplace, many incidents go unreported. Women fear losing their jobs, being seen as difficult, or think that a lawsuit will prevent them from securing another position. Women in high-level positions don't report harassment, especially when they work for larger companies, because they don't want the information to go public. Similarly, large corporations often settle in mediation to avoid the public shaming of the company name. Some companies have employees sign arbitration agreements upon hiring so that any future legal matters are handled privately. 

Moreover many women hit a stonewall. Something the writer says she experienced.  "Several women, including myself," she writes, "reported sexism by managers and editors to their direct supervisor and in their exit interviews to no avail."

So what are the best ways to handle and deal with sexism in the workplace? 


It's not your responsibility to school employees. Or teach anyone a lesson. But if you think standing up for yourself is the right move and shows that you can stand your ground professionally and personally, one of the best approaches is to ask the harasser to repeat what they said. The act of making someone repeat and joke or a comment and making clear that you don't find it funny is enough to make it stop. There are some fires that can be put out without dragging your boss into the mix. If confronting the situation head-on is not working, it's time to take next steps. 


If you are experiencing overt or subtle sexism in the workplace and you know a conversation or confrontation will only make it worse, start tracking it. There are jokes, comments about co-workers' appearances, and more that offend some and not others. If you are experiencing workplace fodder, harassment, or more, that makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to lie to kick it with your co-workers. Meaning: don't let the peer office pressure of being the one employee who doesn't find it funny stop you from tracking incidents. The sexual harassment suits that are taken the most seriously are those with the most data. 


Report it to a supervisor you trust. If you work for a company that is large enough to have an HR department, take it to them. We know this is scary and that you're worried about losing your job. But ask yourself two very important questions: 1. Is any job worth feeling that uncomfortable? 2. Do you want to work for a company that doesn't take harassment complains seriously? If they are willing to overlook and dismiss concerns of this nature, you can be sure that they do not value you as an employee. 

"Ask yourself: Do you want to work for a co. that doesn't take sexual harassment claims seriously?"

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The reality is, many women who work in both the private and public sector have experienced sexism in the workplace. Part of the issue is that all companies outwardly profess support of women in the workplace as well as a zero tolerance policies regarding sexual harassment and discrimination. Behind closed company doors, it's a little different. If your concerns are going unaddressed and there are no disciplinary actions taken, it's time to talk to an attorney. An employer may be held liable for the conduct of the employee if the employer knew or should have known of the employee’s conduct and failed to take prompt remedial actions. The complaint should be made in person and in writing, and you should keep a copy of for your own records. In the complaint use the log you've created to state specific acts and dates and what effects the harassment is having on your job performance. 

Note: states have varying time limits on how far from the date of incident the lawsuit can be filled. You will also need to file with the Federal Government. You have three hundred days to do this. Most lawyers' fees come from a percent of your settlement or verdict. 

For more information on sexual harassment visit the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to read the Policy Guidance Documents Related to Sexual Harassment.

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