By Karen Cleveland
I work in an office where it is quite the boys club…it’s practically like Mad Men. I get along with everyone well but can’t help feel uncomfortable, and almost angry, when I’m sitting at my desk and the VP comes around and starts talking about the Sunshine Girl. Within minutes, about a few feet away from my desk, a gaggle of guys will gather and start scrutinizing her body and then begin talking about sex in general. It makes me uncomfortable – so I just quietly keep my eye on the computer and try to block out their jeers. I don’t want to come off as a prude but find this really irritating. What’s your advice?
Yikes…sorry to hear this. I can imagine how toxic of an environment that must be. Good for you for having the gumption to address it. A lot of people would prefer to passively bitch about it. You’re clearly of the productive-bitching school, a trait I find endearing.
There are tons of insensitive people in the world, manifested in sexism, racism, homophobia, or just a general awful disposition. Regretfully, most of them are employed, and bring their insensitivities to work, every day.
Get your game face on. When the sneers and comments start flying, muster up your best poker face and pull the attention where it needs to be: work. Then, take on the chauvinists, one by one, starting at the bottom. Do not address this in a group format. You’re outnumbered, for one, and secondly, no one should be lectured in front of their colleagues. If you start a public pissing match, you‘ll lose and be dubbed a brat, a girly-girl, etc [insert more patronizing terms here].
If you can swallow your ego (and disgust) for long enough, offer to take them (individually) for a coffee. Explain how their frat boy behaviour makes for a sucky place to go to work, but you figured that you could talk to them, because you know they’d understand. Rather than attack them for being jerks (which they are), make a plea for an ally, and ask them to help you squash this (follow it up with a ‘hey, thanks for your time. Good talk.” note to show some love). Have a few of these conversations, so that by the time you make it up to the Vice President, you’ve made a case for yourself and showed you’re taking it on, with moxie. You will absolutely be scrutinized and picked a part for how you handle this, so show your boss that you’re a force to be reckoned with. It’s a make-it-or-break-it moment – good luck. If you don’t succeed, book a good chunk of time with your HR manager on the way out.