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The Meetings Show

6 sexist remarks regularly heard at work

Despite gains in gender equality in the workplace, sexist comments haven’t disappeared.


Have you ever referred to a group of adult women at work as “girls?” Have you reflexively asked only women to take notes at meetings? Despite major advances in gender equality in the workplace, old pieces of sexism linger.

1. “You probably won’t come back to work after the baby is born.” People rarely say this to men, but women about to go on maternity leave hear it regularly. Of course, there are women who end up not returning to their jobs after their maternity leave is up, but many, many women who plan to return do so.

2. “Laura, can you take notes at the meeting?” It may be perfectly appropriate to ask Laura to take notes if she’s an administrative worker or a junior. But too often, women are the ones asked to take notes –get coffee, order lunch – even when men in the same role or at the same level are present. It’s also true that women often tend to volunteer themselves for these tasks while men don’t, so it’s especially important for managers to make sure that this type of work is distributed evenly and doesn’t end up exclusively performed by women.

3. “Girl” or “girls.” It’s still common to hear phrases at work, such as “the PR girl” or “the girls are all at lunch.” But you rarely hear the “the PR boy” or “the boys are in the conference room.” Referring to adult women as “girls” isn’t generally intended to be infantilizing or patronizing. But language has power.

4. “You need to soften your emails and take a gentler approach in meetings.” It’s possible that this is genuinely good feedback. But it’s been well-documented that women hear this kind of feedback far, far more frequently than men do. In fact, research shows that women are often told that they’re being abrasive, aggressive or rude when the same behaviors in men are perceived as assertiveness or strong leadership.

5. “Office Mom.” This term is often used to describe the woman in the office who remembers birthdays, notices when people aren’t feeling well, organizes potlucks and generally mothers fellow employees. These are lovely traits. But notice that you rarely hear about an “office Dad.” And the reality is that people don’t get high-profile projects, win promotions or build their professional reputations by planning office parties or remembering their co-workers’ birthdays. Recognize your co-workers for their professional achievements.

6. “The pretty new marketing assistant.” Complimentary or not, assessing people’s looks at work is demeaning and takes the focus from their professional contributions. It’s not about compliments on their appearance. It’s about having people make your looks “A Thing” in a professional context where you need to be taken seriously and known for your brain.

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