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  1. Blog
  2. Culture & Professionalism

5 Outrageous Things Women Have Heard at Work

And tips for how you should respond if you’re on the receiving end of a sexist remark

5 Outrageous Things Women Have Heard at Work
Photo courtesy of Brooke Cagle

It’s no secret that the sexism in the workplace is still alive and well. The issue takes on many forms: sexist microaggressions, double standards, stereotypes...the list goes on. Increasingly, women in the workforce are dealing with more subtle forms of sexism and discrimination. These indirect forms can range from unwanted pet names like “darling,” to offhanded comments about women’s physical appearances.

Women undoubtedly play an integral role in the success of our country — they make up 47 percent of the workforce. Yet, almost a third of women in the workplace have experienced gender discrimination at work. People often make snap judgements or knee-jerk comments without even realizing the effects they might have on the other person. That’s why it’s important to speak up and let these people know, regardless of intention, that their comments are offensive and unacceptable. After receiving an unwelcome comment, stay calm and assess your next move. You have several options: ask them to repeat it, directly tell them it’s offensive, ask for an explanation, or have a private conversation with them. At InHerSight, our goal is to help women reach their maximum potential and ensure that they feel safe in the workplace.

We asked our audience of hundreds of thousands of professional women to tell us about the most outrageous comments they’ve ever received at work. Here are the top 5 (that weren't too horrifying to post on our website):

1. “If you wore makeup, dresses, and did your hair more often, your work would be noticed.”

All too often, the merit of women’s work is boiled down to how they look. It seems like common sense that everyone, regardless of sex, race, religion, etc., should be judged on the quality of their work, not on how likely they are to win the next season of America’s Next Model. Obviously it’s important to practice good hygiene and look professional in the workplace, but as long as you’re adhering to an office dress code, your competencies should be more highly valued than your decision to rock a dress or a pantsuit.

2. “Well, of course he makes more per hour. He has a baby on the way.”

So, not only does this comment perpetuate and attempt to normalize gender pay inequality, but it also lends an unjustified notion that men are the primary breadwinners in a family, so when they’re about to become fathers, they’re obviously more deserving of higher pay to support their family. Not surprisingly, this privilege doesn’t seem to extend to women. Rather, when women are expecting, they are much more likely to be stalled in their careers, receive lower pay, face demotions and be viewed as a burden to the company. Here’s a harrowing statistic: 21 percent of male North Americans think that women should stay at home and not work because they‘struggle to balance work and home life.’ Oof.

3. “You should smile more and be less direct when you talk.”

Unfortunately, the stereotype that women should be pretty and passive is still widespread. There’s obviously nothing wrong with smiling — but men have no right to tell a woman to flash her pearly whites. It’s invasive and demonstrative of the age-old conception that men have control over women’s autonomy. Then, telling women to be less direct when they talk is just a slap in the face. I wonder how many men have ever been told to be less direct? This suggestion pushes women into traditional subservient roles and insinuates that their thoughts are not as valid. Simply put, some men may just feel threatened by ambitious women and feel the need to assert their dominance. Never, ever dumb yourself down in the workplace or opt to not speak up if you have a brilliant idea.

4. “You don’t talk about any you even like men?”

This is an utterly inappropriate question to ask anyone in the workplace. An unwarranted question about someone’s personal relationships has no place in the office. No one is entitled to know the details of your love life and sexual orientation — it’s up to you how much or how little you choose to share with coworkers. This extremely nosy comment implies that there might be something wrong with you if you don’t have a significant other, and continuous comments along these lines could be grounds for sexual harassment.

5. “I wish I was pregnant so I could take time off work.”

Yep, you guessed it — a man said this. Let’s get this straight: having a child is not an excuse to take time off of work. And it’s certainly not a vacation. New moms aren’t swinging in hammocks, soaking up the sun and drinking daiquiris. They’re busy 24/7 taking care of an infant who is completely dependent on them to survive. Research even shows that embracing and expanding parental leave has several positive effects on the entire economy and helps companies boost employee retention rates. Check out these companies that have great maternity leave policies.

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