Recently, a story went viral about a man accidentally sending emails as his woman co-worker.  The person he emailed argued with him about recommendations. However, when he clarified that he was actually sending them email, not the woman, they immediately changed their tune and began to comply with what was asked.

To see if the issue was a fluke, he kept sending emails as his woman co-worker for several more days. He learned it wasn’t a fluke. Clients and other co-workers gave him all kinds of push-back on issues when they normally would not. He found his advice was not followed. His recommendations were challenged. His data was questioned.

Meanwhile, his woman co-worker was having the best week of her career. Clients were more responsive. They accepted her recommendations almost immediately. She was not questioned or challenged on anything.

Because they thought she was a man.

Her co-worker thought she was less productive and effective because he had more experience than she did. He assumed she was less organized and not as strong at communicating.

He was wrong.

Women in workplaces all over the world are facing this same challenge every day. And it is a shame that it takes a man to experience the behaviors for society at large to believe it.

But now that the truth is out, what are we going to do about it?

  • Accept the fact of gender discrimination in your workplace. It is impossible for our world to be full of patriarchy, male privilege and rape culture … yet our workplace be clear of any of those effects. Impossible. It’s there. Face it.
  • Believe women. Sexist behaviors much like racist behaviors are very nuanced. It is another kind of dogwhistle. When women tell you that they’ve heard the whistle blow, trust that they’re being honest about their experience. Take them seriously and look into the issue.
  • Call out unacceptable behavior. When an issue is found, address it. Swiftly, directly and candidly. Put bad behavior on blast and make sure it is clear it will not be tolerated.
  • Demand respect. Women in positions of authority must be given support to do their jobs without insolence or interference. That support means not allowing others to undermine them or call their integrity into question without evidence. It means not allowing men to take credit for their work or to be the face of projects to make things easier or more comfortable. It means giving them unfettered loyalty.
  • Enforce the standard. Do not do business with clients or continue to employ people who show disrespect for women. Point out the behavior and require change — but if the person cannot comply, cut them loose. Continuing to associate with sexist people once you’re aware that they’re sexist means you are sexist too. If that isn’t true, you will remove them from areas of authority and influence in your organization and your life.

Hiring women and promoting them isn’t enough if you’re not willing to support them in overcoming the hindrances and obstacles that impact their effectiveness and productivity. Make sure they are given the respect they deserve.