21 Moments Of Sexism Every Professional Woman Has Experienced (But No One Believes)

Every professional woman — in almost every context — experiences some form of sexism, no matter how “benign.” And we get used it, because if we don’t, we’ll never have a career (and if we focused on it all the time, we would almost certainly lose our minds). But sometimes it’s important to think of the things we experience, that few people even believe are really happening, if only so we can work on getting rid of it. I spoke to lots of women about their experiences, and this is some of what we gathered.

1. “When I was working as a web designer, every single person, unless they saw my picture beforehand, assumed I was a guy. Yes, I have a unisex name, but that doesn’t account for how many people just straight up assumed I was male.”

2. “I wore a completely appropriate, professional, knee-length dress to a meeting with my boss and one of our older male clients. When we arrived to the meeting, my male boss made a joke about my dress and his shirt being the same color, to which the older, male client replied, “Oh believe me, that’s not what I noticed about the dress,” as he eyed me up and down–he was literally undressing me with his eyes. My male boss laughed and also made a comment about how I looked in the dress. The same client has made similar comments about my appearance at every meeting we’ve ever had, and it has made me so uncomfortable that I have to make sure I cover up as much as possible each time I know I have to meet with him. He makes me feel degraded, as if I am only at these meetings for show as my boss’ “pretty little sidekick”, instead of as the employee who runs his account successfully. I look forward to the day when I am valued for the work I create instead of simply my appearance.”

3. “A colleague, not even a boss, has addressed me as ‘dear’ on more than one occasion, usually while asking me to do something that is not my job to take care of for him. Also tends to phrase things like ‘thanks for the help!’ when I complete my actual, regular job that I am trained to do. As though I’m just here to give a little helping hand, and not perform my job.”

4. “I got cut out of a huge meeting less than hour before our team was supposed to leave, then was asked — via text message, because my boss was trying to be discreet in front of the clients — if I could bring everyone some coffee because another person had forgotten to get everyone’s Starbucks orders. I was kicked off a project, had my notes and work used, and was asked to drop everything to be a glorified waitress in front of the clients. Needless to say, it was one of the more degrading things to ever happen in my career.”

5. “I get more shit for being an unmarried woman at 31 than my boss does for being on his third marriage — with a woman his daughter’s age — in his late 50s.”

6. “At my old job, there were rumors that I had the job because the boss had feelings for me, or that we had slept together, or because I wore tight(ish) skirts. And even though none of that was true, it was somehow much less damning than the fact that my coworker got his job — clearly — because he was a childhood friend of the boss. Real favoritism = fine, imagined sexual advantage = unacceptable.”

7. “I have worked alongside a male coworker for years, and we have completely different duties and skill sets, so it was never really a question of one of us managing the other. Each one just stayed in their lane. But little by little, he started managing me and telling me what to do and giving me advice on work that he himself didn’t know how to do. Eventually I had to go to our boss and say that if it didn’t stop, I would leave. But his assumption was that he could just start bossing me around, and that I would stand for it.”

8. “I did some work for a company fairly recently where a senior colleague (not my direct boss) asked if I had finished work on a project he’d asked me to help with. I politely told him no, I had not managed to finish the work 2 days ahead of deadline, and he’d have to wait for the agreed deadline to arrive before receiving the work. His response was to ask if “a little spanking” would help “speed things along”. I mumbled something really weakly about it being “a really weird thing to say” and then kind of sank into my chair. I was utterly, totally mortified and the only reason I stayed silent (and beet red) at my desk was because I thought that mercifully nobody else had heard. Weeks later a colleague told me over drinks that she heard it, as did many others nearby, and just thought it was weird but that it would add to MY embarrassment to confront him. It blows my mind to think I didn’t speak up and that nobody else did either for fear of upsetting the one person perpetrating the sexist language.”

9. “Many times in my career, I have worked side by side with a male colleague on a project, only to have them deliver it as though it was theirs, often without even realizing it. It’s just second nature for them to be the voice and the face of an idea or a project. If you don’t fight tooth and nail, your name will be taken off things, or put under theirs, or poorly presented. Never be the domestic servant of the office.”

10. “I work in customer service, and customers regularly refer to me as sweetie, honey, baby, etc. and treat me as just someone to hit on, not that I am working.”

11. “I got an interview call back a year ago. And in the voicemail, the man I interviewed with (in his late sixties I believe) used “babe” “sweetie” and “cutie” when telling me to return for a second meeting. It was the most cringeworthy thing ever, and definitely did not return for the second meeting.”

12. “The whole ‘being paid less’ thing is so easy to forget — or to take for granted as ‘just the way the world works’ sometimes — but I found out recently that my male coworker who does the exact same job as me, and consistently gets worse reviews from clients, is being paid significantly more. And the typical response is ‘you have to fight for it and negotiate,’ but I am the daughter of two lawyers and have never gone into a negotiation without ovaries of steel. I always ask for what I want. I am just a woman, and therefore have a lower market value.”

13. “When I’ve interviewed for certain jobs, I’ve had MUCH better luck when I wore a fake engagement ring. It puts people at ease, and makes them trust me more. Of course, they would never have the same reservations about a man and whether or not he was married.”

14. “Someone who was NOT my boss once told me ‘I don’t need you to give me excuses, I just need you to do it’ after he told me to schedule him a car and I said I had other stuff on the docket. He figured since I was his boss’ personal assistant, I could be his, too.”

15. “I used to work at [a large investment bank] and I’d get called ‘sweetheart’ all the time by my coworkers, which is benign but over time discouraging.”

16. “My coworker is a dull, socially awkward, wholly untalented standard-issue dude in his early 30s. There’s nothing particularly sexist about him, except that no woman who was as thoroughly unexceptional as he is would be in his position. And he doesn’t understand how lucky he is just to be a man.”

17. “When I got my forestry internship, there were three interns, including two females, which was a first. Apparently all the guys (pretty much all of the forestry program. I think the only females at the time were active in the forestry club from other majors, me being one) had applied or wanted this internship. I was a forestry minor. Anyway, I got the spot. My female coworker was a tough-as-nails, adult student in her 30s type. We were pretty stoked. The guys all congratulated me to my face but I caught wind that basically they were upset that two women beat them out for an internship a) we got it “just because we were women” and b) they didn’t think we could do the work.” Our boss, an awesome dude who refused to retire and would still come out in the woods with us most days, caught wind of this and got pretty annoyed. At the end of the internship he said we were two of the best workers he’d had yet. We had very very very low error margins on the QA (quality assurance) checks for our measurements. I think I was 100% clear for that actually. It’s been a long time though.

18. “‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years? With a family?’ is an actual thing i was asked during an interview.”

19. “I received an email from a man who is my equal at best, and has much less seniority than I, saying ‘Each of these docs is a different piece, so be sure you read each of them.’ Like no, dipshit, I know how to do my job.”

20. “When I was trying to get a loan for my small business — that was entirely mine, owned and operated — it was infinitely easier getting treated well and considered when I had my husband, father, or male employee with me. Yes, a subordinate employee who happened to be male.”

21. “I work in HR, and I have seen women get fired prematurely or, more common, never hired in the first place, because they believe there is a chance she might have a child in the next few years. It will destroy a girl’s career. But it’s never even considered as a hypothetical for men, because it would only mean positive things about “how serious” they were, and we don’t expect it to cut into their career. It’s disgusting.”

Now let’s all cleanse ourselves with this classic moment of life-affirming feminism from one Nicki Minaj. TC mark

image – 9 to 5

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

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