Q: As a relatively junior member of my team, I’m trying to figure out my role in helping change the culture in my firm (and with my clients) related to how women are treated. There’s a bit of a “boys club” atmosphere that I’m not comfortable with. What’s the best way to have an impact?
Calvin, 29, consultant
A: Act from a position of integrity and respect to make the most difference.
Start by reflecting on the situations you’ve seen and responses you’ve offered thus far. Have you been speaking up? It sounds as if you may not be living up to your own ideals, and that needs to change.
Think about the things you wish you’d said, and envision behaving as your best self when you see mistreatment of co-workers. What would have been different?
This could be an uncomfortable adaptation to make. However, the high visibility of this issue in the news may make it easier.
One reader sent his experience, which provides a good model for intervention that doesn’t put anyone on the spot in an unproductive way.
This reader writes, “I was working on a team that included an intern — a college-age woman. Some of the guys on the team were making some jokes about date-ability, etc. Not funny, inappropriate, and making her feel pretty uncomfortable.
She and I were talking about it and I asked if she was as uncomfortable as I was, obviously seeing that she was. She said yes, but didn’t want to get on people’s bad sides by speaking up.
So I went to the team lead and told him that he needed to make sure that this type of joking around was stopped. He was genuinely surprised, as men generally are when they’re told offensive behavior is offensive.
But he was also genuinely contrite and indeed put a stop to it.”
Adapt this approach in a mild situation, bringing your own style to it. However, there may be other, more egregious situations when direct action is called for.
If you’re present when people are crossing the line with sexual references or harassment, it’s your responsibility as a decent human to call them out.
If you haven’t been doing that, what stops you? If you’re afraid of backlash, consider the effect on these women.
Use documentation to help protect you — and them. Keep notes on the incidents you’ve noticed and the related interactions.
Develop some standard lines you could use; preparation could make it easier to respond in the moment.
For example, try “I don’t share that sense of humor” or “those kinds of comments make me uncomfortable.” This points out the inappropriateness without overt disrespect.
Understand your allies. Your boss and other leaders in your company should care, and are probably better equipped to address issues with clients.
If they don’t care, even after you’ve raised your concerns, consider whether this is an environment you even want to work in.
By the way, you don’t mention your race, ethnicity, or sexual preference, but recognize that harassment in the form of micro (or macro) aggressions are common for people in these groups as well.
Be a force for creating a positive culture across everyone in your company.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.