Bosses are just people, and will all have their own stresses and shortcomings. But it’s not what the boss does once in six months – it’s what they do every day that counts.
A management style is often a reflection of someone’s view of the world, of themselves, and of things such as gender roles. When you have a boss whose attitude is at its core sexist, your life can become a misery.
A happy and fulfilled and well-balanced boss is unlikely to be a sexist tyrant at work. But a bitter one with an axe to grind against women will carry this into the workplace, sometimes so subtly that it is difficult to pinpoint.
These days there is a far greater awareness of the consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace than even a decade ago. That doesn’t mean it never happens, but a sexual predator in the workplace is less likely to get away with it now than in the past. Women are also more aware of their rights.
But there are the bosses (both men and women) with personality disorders, who see the workplace as a terrain to wield terror, and give free expression to their whims. And they think the women (and sometimes also the men who work under them) deserve it.
Here are 10 things sexist bosses are likely to do.
Make overt reference to gender in the interview.
Comments such as “You know I am not allowed to ask about your plans for the future”, which can usually be interpreted as follows: “Are you going to have a baby anytime soon, and go off on maternity leave?” The more unsubtle ones will comment directly on your appearance, usually disguised in the form of a compliment.
Assume women are looking for stop-gap employment.
Sexist bosses will assume the women are not the main breadwinners, and are unlikely to stay long in the job, let alone make a career of it. The underlying assumption is that there is some man who will be looking after them now and in the future.
Fail to really consider women for promotion.
They might be on the list, but they seldom seem to get the job. It is easy to spot companies where this happens – just look at their management structures, and how the genders are represented. On paper, men and women doing the same job are supposed to be paid the same, but in practice this does not always happen. Job titles can also disguise the reality of someone’s level of responsibility.
Assume the women will do the catering and the social organising.
Unless it is part of your job description, you do not have to organise catering at staff functions, or clean up afterwards, or make things such as birthday parties or farewell parties happen. A sexist boss won’t even ask – he will just assume the women will do it. And he probably won’t thank them either.
Exclude women from certain workplace conversations.
Like some men, some women won’t be interested in discussing politics, sport or management strategies, but automatically excluding all women from conversations on these topics is very sexist. It is seldom done overtly, but often there is a subtle vibe of “Keep away – men talking” sent out. Sometimes this exclusion extends to other social activities organised after working hours, like going to the bar or the golf course - or, even worse, the strip club.
Assume appearance is everything.
Most men have cottoned onto the fact that overt comments on appearance are a no-no, but even ongoing compliments can sometimes be creepy. Underlying all of this is the assumption that women’s appearance is somehow more important than men’s is. If you aren’t sure whether you are overreacting, ask yourself whether the boss would have made a similar comment to Brian in Sales about his new jacket.
Fail to take input from women seriously in meetings.
A sexist boss would pretend to listen, but would seldom take any of these suggestions seriously, let alone implement them. Until one of the men makes the suggestion, that is. A sexist boss subtly creates the vibe that the real decision-making is men’s work.
Assume a lack of knowledge on technical matters.
Whether it is on issues relating to IT, or mechanics, knowledge or ignorance cannot be assumed based on gender. But a sexist boss will do just that without establishing people’s prior knowledge on certain things.
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Complain when women take family responsibility leave.
This usually comes from a boss who would not in a million years dream of taking a day off work to take a sick child to the doctor, but expects his wife to miss a day from her job in similar circumstances. Life happens – when working with people, sick children and dying relatives will be part of the equation. One cannot blame women for being in the position of carrying the brunt of the responsibility for these family issues.
Imply that a grievance is somehow hormone related.
If a woman finally snaps at work, a sexist boss will assume she is premenstrual or menopausal – her grievance cannot surely be real. Especially if it is aimed at him. Granted, sometimes hormones can affect both men and women, but even so, justifiable grievances can never be dismissed just for that reason.