HOLLA ON THE GO: How to Speak to Women in the Workplace

How to Speak to Women in the Workplace

After experiencing condescending, misogynist, and, sexist behavior in several different office settings throughout my life, I had to wonder if there were articles I could share about how to speak to women in the workplace.

Somewhere on the Web, it had to be simply laid out right? Well …

When I conducted a very brief search, the top articles that showed up, despite adding the keywords: “office” and “workplace”, were titles like “How to Talk to Women to Charm Them” or “How to Talk to Women You’re Attracted to.”

I make no apologies for the series of eye rolls that followed.

What I was hoping to find was a simple moral of the story: Treat women equally. Treat them like human beings. Treat them with the same professionalism you would a man. Treat them without condescension, belittling, or sexism.

I recall a time where I was asked to stop in my tracks when returning from the restroom to my seat on a casual day at work, and a male co-worker asked me to stop and turn around. I don’t know if he realized how it came off. I was so dumbfounded that I obeyed for some reason. Why did I do that? I should’ve said point blank: “Do you realize how that sounds?”, but I, like many other women and especially women in their mid-20s like me who are fighting to earn higher positions in the workplace, obliged to be polite and non-confrontational.

Later, when telling friends about the experience, they made jokes about telling HR, not suggestions – jokes. It shouldn’t have been taken lightly, but, still, I brushed it off my shoulders, unaffected. I joked too. So, am I a hypocrite or passive aggressive activist for my decision to react and behave this way, or self-serving, preventing stress and conflict to save my own sanity?

What really stuck out was when after turning around for him, he began to pull out his wallet, and walk towards me with money. How uncomfortable. To say I felt like a stripper might be dead-on.

I was wearing work clothes (a blouse and olive green khakis), and a jean jacket with some tired patches and holes in it. Fashionable, in my opinion. In his opinion, and like the opinion of many other practical men I know – useless.

Still, this display of comedy was uncalled for and distasteful, but those around laughed, so, of course, I brushed it off.

But, I remember it, just like I remember the many other times in the workplace where (married) men have asked me to a drink alone to be “friendly”. Thankfully, I had the sense enough to say no, but in the more distant past, with single men, I was not as smart. Luckily, I learned early. Don’t entertain those offers. It’s not friendliness, but, in most cases, the need for attention on their part from the kindness and comfort of a young woman who exists outside their day-to-day problems.

I have been harassed by authoritative figures before in my life. Every encounter makes you stronger. As it’s happening, you feel defeated, but you become more equipped to handle every run-in, in the future. Sad as it may be, many women have to wear shields in the workplace. Kindness is misconstrued as flirting from women for these types of men. Professional interest is misguided into personal interest, and fashion is mistaken for flaunting.

Then, when we are trying to flirt in our personal lives, be kind, or wear new fashions to feel good, we can’t help but feel guilty and misplaced. The cycle is dirty and shameful. Are men to blame? Is history? Is society? In my opinion, it’s the unwillingness to become aware of how our behaviors affect others. It’s the unwillingness to change. It’s the unwillingness to open our eyes to multiple perspectives.

There are well-meaning men and women in the world. Unfortunately, I’ve ran into a grave sum that fall into formerly mentioned situations, and much worse. That’s a tame example compared to other experiences I’ve encountered in life, but I have handled, managed, and moved forward. Still, I do not ignore the reality that doesn’t seem to become deprecated over time …

Sexual harassment and assault is not okay. Condescension, sexism, ageism, and inequality are not okay.

Despite my strong opinions given these experiences, I still fear speaking up, like many women in office environments today. I fear job loss. I fear confrontation. I fear bullying. I fear being called hormonal or sensitive. I fear uprising. I fear more teasing and aggression.

If management asks: “Is it really that bad?”, we may say no, but the excessive and consistent encounters don’t fade so easily as a one-time answer.

“Yes.”

There shouldn’t be any “but”s to follow, but often, we say, “But, I can handle it … but, it’s okay, he didn’t mean it … but, I’m sure it’ll stop.”

We make excuses. We put fault on ourselves. We absorb accountability because they won’t.

BUT –

More than this, I fear behavior like this worsening, continuing, and affecting my sister or female friends. You may not realize it, but it’s much more likely you’ve met a woman who’s encountered harassment or assault in life than not. She may not tell you or ever mention it, but odds are, she’s experienced it in some way, shape or form.
I wonder … if someone doesn’t speak up now, what will happen later?

More than my other fears, I fear being voiceless and becoming what they treat me like. I refuse to. I fear purposelessness. I will not submit to this ideology or let it slide.

It enables it to keep happening. So, we shouldn’t apologize, excuse, or dismiss. We should speak up without fear of retaliation, and hope for change.

How do we treat women in the workplace?

Let’s not ask Google. Let’s ask the women in the cubicle or desk next to us, and then take action to ensure they are treated equally. Let’s act on gender equality now to create better futures for our daughters, sisters, and friends entering the workplace tomorrow, to create better futures for our own tomorrows.

The future is one moment, one action, one though, one intention, one conversation away.

 

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