How to Address a Coworker’s Sexist Behavior or Comments

With movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, more attention has been given to sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace and world in general. If you are the target of a coworker’s sexist behavior or comments, here’s how you can address it in a professional yet clear manner:

Find Your Voice

While I know it seems unlikely, there is always the small chance a coworker may not know the remarks he sometimes makes are viewed as sexist or negative in any way. In other words, they’re more ignorant or lacking self-awareness than they are a purposeful aggressor. Be sure to speak up and share your thoughts and feelings, letting the offender know his offensive behavior is not appreciated. While you may feel anger or other strong feelings, try to be a bigger person than your coworker. Instead of using an outburst (as warranted as it may feel), focus on clear communication as a first step toward resolving the issue.

Treat the Guilty Party Like a Child

The guilty party is often not an evil person who is hellbent on making your life miserable. They are simply thoughtless and have a different point of view as you. When they let a sexist comment fly or act inappropriately, try to react as you would to a misbehaving child who doesn’t have the context to understand his own actions. Don’t get mad – point out the behavior, make it clear it is unacceptable, and move on with business like the professional you are.

Say “No” More

Are you often asked to take notes during a meeting or be the one to go for the coffee and muffin run? Does it feel like this is because your mostly-male coworkers think those kinds of tasks are women’s work?

It is your right to say ‘no’ more often. For example, you can say something like, “I took notes the last couple of meetings; how about Frank does it this week?” or “I’m happy to be a team player, as I’m sure all of you are, so how about someone else gets the coffee this week as I’ve done it the past three times.” Again, it’s important to speak calmly and factually.

Document Everything

It’s possible that all of your efforts may do little to dissuade the guilty party or parties. In these instances, it’s essential that you document all the offensive incidents, what was said and by whom, and the day and date. Make copies for yourself and head to HR with a copy.

Follow Up

If no ramifications or corrections of behavior occur, follow up with your HR department to determine what measures they plan to take. Stay the course and see it through to the end to make sure the message is clear – that sexist comments and behavior will NOT be tolerated.

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