Sexism rears it’s ugly head…again

DISCLAIMER – This is in no way a reflection on my current employer. I am not bad-mouthing where I work or the people I work with, as 99% of them are fabulous. I need to put this up, pretty much to cover my own arse, but I still want this story to be told – because I don’t think we should be quiet about these kinds of situations. Some slight modifications have been made to protect the privacy of my organisation.

I’ve refrained from posting about this, mainly because I thought my anger over it would go away.

It really hasn’t.

I honestly thought my work place was different. I thought my workplace was inclusive and encompassing and understanding. I’m sure the majority of people are – turns out a minority aren’t though.

So, onto my story.

We had a meeting with Microsoft regarding some support for our current infrastructure. As part of this, a collection of us were treated to a meeting that involved viewing and discussing a few things regarding our environment, as well as discussing some security concerns and the best way to prevent them in an organisation such as ours.

It was in this meeting that I encountered what is probably the most blatant and obnoxious form of sexism I’ve ever experienced in my current role.

Part of the discussion revolved around the fact that we still have a number of Windows Server 2003 servers that require either decommissioning or upgrading. This is something that I’m rather passionate about and have been pushing for and working towards since I first started here, knowing that Server 2003 EoL was coming up in July 2015 (and which is also a whole new blog post that I’m working on).

While discussing this, it was raised as a risk. I won’t name any names, but someone in the room then asked why it hadn’t been raised before. It was at this point that I got a little bit heated. This was something that I’d raised. I had spreadsheets, I had emails, I had jobs regarding it. I’d definitely raised this as an issue…so that’s what I said.

What came next still makes my blood boil.

The response was “Well, you should’ve asked one of them to raise it” while pointing at my male colleagues.

I was stunned speechless.

In a room filled with a large number of my colleagues and Microsoft representatives, I had pretty much been told that because I’d raised it, it hadn’t been given any attention. But if one of my male colleagues had raised it, something would’ve been done, attention would’ve been paid, it would’ve been worthy of discussion.

I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t say a word, I was completely thrown. There was absolutely nothing I could say or do…that would’ve been legal anyway. Pretty sure throttling a colleague is frowned upon by HR (and quite probably the police).

So I let it slide. It’s now been about 2 months since it happened, and it still makes me angry. I can’t talk to the person who said it the same any more. I want as little to do with them as physically possible.

(EDIT – some clarification, suggested by a friend. The comment was made by someone who has made similar comments to me, and others, in the past. The two colleagues he pointed to were of the same level as me – in fact, I would put one at slightly lower as he hasn’t been involved in our Windows infrastructure at all.)

I think what makes me angry now is the fact that, looking back…nothing was said. There were at least 10 other people in the room, including a few women, and nothing was said.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t blame the other women for not saying anything. In situations like that, saying something labels you as an hysterical woman, just trying to cause trouble. So I don’t blame them. But I don’t understand why something wasn’t said by any other person about it being inappropriate. I know people thought it was inappropriate, because following this comment was a round of nervous laughter – the kind of laughter that people use to try and break tension knowing that something incredibly awkward has happened.

This isn’t the only time I’ve come across this in my working history and I’m sure it won’t be the last. What depresses me the most is that I am a fairly strong, forward, outgoing, bold woman. I don’t know what this kind of sexism and belittling would do to someone who had less self-confidence in themselves and their abilities. I’m sure for some it’s absolutely heartbreaking and soul-destroying. I’m sure in many cases it causes these women to second-guess themselves and possibly even leave this line of work entirely.

I want to stand up, right now, and say: This is not acceptable. This is not okay. In no way should a woman be made to feel like their input is any less, purely because of their gender. In no way should a woman be made to feel that what a man has to say is more important than what she has to say, because of his gender.

Many people who read this will see it as a martyr’s cry, as a plea for attention. It’s not. I’m not interested in making it that. I know I should’ve said something, spoken to someone, done something. That fault lies with me. But I want this to be an eye-opener.

If women who are like me – proud, strong, self-confident – can be taken down by this, what must it be doing to those who aren’t? Why aren’t people saying “Stop” instead of awkwardly laughing? Why are we letting these people get away with it over and over again?

Just because I’m a woman, it doesn’t make my contribution any less than yours.

Note: For a continuation of this topic, feel free to read a further post I did regarding sexism in IT

14 thoughts on “Sexism rears it’s ugly head…again

  1. ☢ (@PointZeroOne)

    That’s terrible.

    Perhaps keep the anger simmering and let fly with a rebuttal next time something like this happens? (hopefully it doesn’t). A simple “why should one of them raise it instead of me”

    1. girlgerms Post author

      That’s the plan. Though I do try to have as little to do with this person as possible now. I will actively avoid meetings that they’re in simply so I won’t be put in that situation again. The sad part is? I know that if I’d reacted in the way I wanted to (which would involve quite a bit of swearing and probably threats of violence, knowing me) it would’ve been my hauled in front of HR, not him.

      1. ☢ (@PointZeroOne)

        The thing is though if you’re avoiding this person then that is bad professionalism on your part.

        Maybe raise it with HR to just have it on record and tell them that it’s been eating at you since this person said it.

      2. girlgerms Post author

        My reasons for avoiding them is because I know I’ll say something that will land *me* in hot water. And this person is truly not worth that effort.

        I’ve been tempted to raise it with HR, but our HR department is entirely toothless – that may not be entirely their fault, that could be due to no backing form upper management.

  2. distantcam

    As a male, I am constantly on the lookout for situations like this, to speak up and fight the bystander effect. It’s hard, especially in a work situation where you may be speaking up against a superior. But is must be done.

    1. girlgerms Post author

      I agree – but I can also see why some don’t. I don’t blame them, but I do think it says a lot about our corporate culture that people either felt they didn’t need to speak or that they *couldn’t* speak up.

  3. Alex J

    Terrible that something like this happened and was left to slide by your coworkers. Thanks for sharing, there’s a lesson for everyone to reflect on. To borrow a phrase: “if you see something, say something”!

    1. girlgerms Post author

      Part of the problem is that a large number of people see this behaviour as normal. They shrug it off. That needs to stop – I know that if someone had said to me “If this happened, would you say something?” I would’ve been like “Hell yeah!”.

      Put into that situation, it was entirely different. I didn’t know how to say something. I didn’t want to be “that person”. I could see that other people felt uncomfortable, but no one said anything…so what would it mean if I did? Completely second-guessed myself. Not a pleasant feeling.

      But now that I’ve been there, I know that I should’ve said something – and next time I will.

  4. citizenswift

    I really hope I would have said something had I been one of your male colleagues. I’m sure they too remember this vividly and wish they had vocalised their feelings at the time, seeing that you were shocked into silence. But like distantcam implied, fighting the bystander effect is easier said than done.
    There’s no place for this kind of behaviour in today’s workplace. This guy should be thoroughly ashamed of both his own attitude and the embarrassment he brought on your company in front of the external representatives at the meeting.

    1. girlgerms Post author

      I know they remember it – I know they feel uncomfortable about it. I actually had a “speaking to” (some more info here: because someone felt it had “hit too close to home”. Of course it had – it made someone feel uncomfortable, and that was the whole point.

      I agree – there is no place for this kind of behaviour. But if everyone stays quiet – and I’m just as much to blame as anyone – it will continue. I’ve already said, I won’t stay quiet again.

  5. Paul van den Bergen

    I’ve done the “would you care to explain what exactly you mean by that comment” thing in a variety of contexts before…. it’s rarely ended well (especially if it escalates), but it’s always been totally worth it. As long as you can keep your cool during the process….

    I’d really prefer to not have to it at all… I’m male and find it distressing. If it was the norm… well…. I’d quit – (and I did – got a job at a much better place)

    1. girlgerms Post author

      That’s the problem – it doesn’t end well. The whisteblower ends up being the person targeted and the perpetrator gets away with it. Considering where I work, with the red-tape and bureaucracy and inability to change or even welcome change, there’s a high probability that would’ve happened to me.

      In the end I’ve realised that I don’t care – if it happens again, I *have* to say something.

      I’m lucky that it isn’t the norm. There are a few here who are stuck in their sexist ways and I go out of my way to avoid them, if at all possible. The rest of my work place is fantastic.

  6. Andy

    Personally I would’ve called the ‘idiot’ on it immediately and embarrassed them in public. But then I’m a well known cantankerous type that tends to make CLMs. Though calling them on it immediately puts it on the record! Especially if you say something like ‘such sexist and derogatory comments/attitudes belong back in the ark and I’ll thank you to moderate your language/attitude’. You really should speak with HR and make sure that you mention the number of witnesses so it can be verified; alternatively you can just keep a diary of such events and then belt mgt with it and say they have an issue with sexist staff that must be fixed…

    1. girlgerms Post author

      I am keeping a diary of it now – but I’ve been lucky as I haven’t had to be in the same room/meeting with the person who spurred on this specific post. While this incident was distressing and upsetting, it isn’t the norm in my workplace – most people are lovely. But it’s just the few bad apples out there who ruin it – and the part the worries me is if I had spoken up at the time, it would’ve been me who was looked ad differently, not the person who was the problem. While the people I work with are amazing, the attitudes here certainly do need a shake up. The “boys will be boys” mentality is ridiculous and isn’t acceptable.


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