The USA Today had and article on September 24-26, which was call “Sexist jabs scare female hopefuls”. The article written by Susan Page and gave some good insight into how damaging sexist jabs can be.
Susan’s articles focused on what happens when female political candidates are called sexist names. Sexist names come in various intensities with various meanings. They range from being called a prostitute; being called a looker, being call ugly as a dog, or a mean girl, an ice queen and many other names. Some have positive connotations and others have negative connotations. Regardless of the connotation the USA Today article strongly suggests that these kinds of jabs can be very damaging to female political candidates results when the women choose not to fight back. These kinds of jabs can also be very damaging to female managers in the workplace. The same principle applies.
In today’s competitive workplace, it is easy for people to label others when the competition gets tough. Women are often at the center of labeling because there is still the inbred belief that women are not where they belong, especially when it comes to the workplace. Many believe that labeling women helps put women back in their perceived place. So what do we do? How do we deal with these kinds of sexual jabs in the workplace?
The first thing to do is develop a sixth sense. You need to become aware of your surroundings. You need to know if you are being labeled? Body language, whispers at the water cooler, invitations to lunch or lack of invitations to lunch can help you measure the reactions others have towards you. Women must have their eyes in the back of their heads in order to survive. This does not mean you should become paranoid. You should only become sensitive to your surroundings.
Try to find someone you can confide in. Someone you can talk to, someone who becomes your eyes and ears when you are not around. This could be a coworker, an assistant, a close employee or maybe even your HR director. Someone who is open enough to tell you if you are being labeled.
If you do find out that you are being labeled, then I agree with the USA Today article, you have got to approach the situation head on. If the label is sexist, it does not matter if it has a positive or negative connotation, it could be damaging. You have to deal with it.
How can a positive sexist label be damaging? Lets look at the sexist label “she is a looker”. Even if our initial reaction is that it is not bad, we all want to be called attractive, this kind of sexist comment can damage us. It focuses on our external qualities and not our internal competencies. This kind of label takes the focus off what really matters in the job. It may even cause people to forget job compentancies and focus on external sexual features. This can be very damaging to a career.
Negative sexist labels such as “ice queen” damage female employees in other ways. These labels undermine competencies. If you are in a managerial position, being called an “ice queen” this undermines your managerial people competencies. We are not in our positions to make friends, but we do expect to managers to have certain people skills and the label “ice queen” do not communicate good people skills.
If you find out you are being labeled, it is best to find the source of the labeling and approach the source directly. Ask the person or persons involved in the labeling (which is a kind of “soft mobbing”) what the labels they are using intend. When people are confronted with their own bad behavior they often will stop that behavior.
Often it is sometimes difficult to find the source of the labeling. I once knew a female manager who was labeled “The Bitch”. She found out about this and opened her staff meeting by asking her entire staff if they knew how she got the label” The Bitch”. She asked them to help her understand what aspects of her behavior got her this label. The staff was so shocked, that the labeling immediately stopped after that.
Do not be afraid to address labeling. As the article by Susan Page said, fight back. Address the problem, if you can find the source great, if you cannot then fight back by letting people know you have heard the labels and do not appreciate them. We work too hard to get where we are to have our careers torn apart by sexist labels. They do not belong in the workplace nor do they belong anywhere.
Last, we women should engage in proper etiquette. We should not label others. We should not participate in the game of labeling and we should stop sexist labels if we hear them. By supporting each other in the workplace we can begin to change this behavior.