Many of us have been in a meeting where someone makes a sexist statement or a poor choice of words.
The silence that comes over the room can weaponize the awkwardness, but it doesn’t have to.
Etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley, who conducts corporate training on workplace communication, said curbing sexist remarks should serve as a means to educate, not necessarily to humiliate.
He offered a few methods to address sexist statements:
Don’t wait, call it out
This one may seem obvious. If you’re in a boardroom and someone makes an egregious, hard to ignore sexist comment, Farley said it’s appropriate to interrupt the discussion and call the person out.
Explain to the person why their statement was inappropriate in front of the room, Farley said. It sets a tone for the rest of the office.
“You’re setting up an example for people who think this is OK,” he said. “You’ll be admired for that.”
Quickly switch gears
If someone makes a minor sexist faux pas, quickly turn the conversation toward something else.
Pull the person aside
If it appears someone said something inappropriate by accident, or if the utterance seems out-of-character for someone, pull them aside and address it. You’ll be saving them from further embarrassment.
Be firm, Farley advises, but come from a place of understanding that it was unintentional and include an explanation about why the comment sounded tasteless.
Trust your instincts
People who think they’ve heard sexist language should trust and follow their instincts, Farley said. That means take action even if the person who was offended laughs or shrugs it off.
Be on the lookout
Recent sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Farley said, demonstrate how bad behavior can continue despite many powerful people possibly having knowledge of the wrongdoings.
As a result, men and women in the American workforce must be vigilant of such activity. Being a considerate member of any staff, he said, means you’re on the lookout for sexism.
How to spot a pattern
If one person made two or three sexist comments, it’s time to take action, Farley said. Contact your human resources department.
Also, if you’ve witnessed serious repercussions of a person’s behavior — i.e.: employees leaving the company — then the seeds of a problem already exist.
Bosses, lead by example
If you’re in a position of power, set an example for your employees by creating a sexist-free environment.
Farley said research shows sexism at the top trickles down and makes it acceptable for such behavior to persist in managers and department heads underneath them.
Aside from treating all employees with respect, bosses should assure their staff is diverse with women in positions of leadership, Farley said.
Use the news
Farley said huge strides have been made when it comes to sexism in the workplace.
The younger generation of men, he said, have a greater respect for women and we’re seeing more women in positions of power.
But the high-profile workplace sexual harassment allegations we see on the news — such as the recent accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein— show “we still clearly have miles to go,” Farley said.
Farley said it’s important to use these news stories as an opportunity to talk about sexism in the workplace with not only coworkers but friends and family.