Scenario #1: You enter a male colleague’s office to discuss a sensitive matter, and he pauses to think before shutting the door for privacy. “Let’s open the window shades so that others know what we’re doing in here” he suggests.
Scenario #2: You wear a great new outfit to work. Maybe a new skirt, blouse or pair of shoes. You walk in feeling good and someone turns to you and exclaims, “ooh lala you look nice – hot date tonight?”
Scenario #3: You have been working on a big project with your male colleague. To get the work done, you attend a lot of meetings. People see you frequently walking around together or working in a conference room. All of a sudden there is gossip floating around that there is something more going on. You have now inadvertently become a “work wife.”Do any of these situations seem all too familiar?
While office gossip is inevitable, there are solutions such as policies which can be created and enforced. However subtle comments and actions can cause much more damage as they often go unnoticed and can become very distracting. Suddenly you’re second guessing every move, rather than focusing on getting your work done effectively.
So then do women need to think twice before doing simple things like closing a door or rocking a new pair of heels? Is it truly our problem? In short, no.
The subliminal concepts hidden in our behavior.
You may have never realized the dynamic taking place as the comments can be made and interpreted subliminally. It’s like apologizing – as women we do it too much. Similarly, why should we have to second guess every word we say just so that others do not confuse the basic interactions taking place?
For example, a new hair style or a sharp pair of slacks should not lead others to a “romantic” mindset. Those assumptions continue to sexualize women rather than respecting them as professional colleagues. Instead let’s try considering the outfit to be a polished professional appearance. If you cannot help yourself but to wonder, try something like “You look very nice today – big meeting?”
What happens when subtle actions take their toll?
At first these comments may seem innocent and complimentary. However after a while you subconsciously develop a “checking” mechanism to ensure everything is safe for work, no room for assumptions. Little by little the constant stream of thoughts and questions become a distraction.This could result in lower quality work or prevent you from setting that extra meeting with your colleague for a last look at your project. The added steps in your checklist are distracting you from acting like the leader you know you are. These distractions decrease effectiveness and efficiency while we spend 28% of the workday trying to stay on track. Rather than focusing on important things like your big deadline next Tuesday, you are wasting precious time at work worrying about the little things like shutting blinds.
What should we do about it?
There’s the flip side where those on the other side should rethink their thought process and realize the implications of their understated behaviors. They are the ones who are making the assumptions that we are apologizing for or carefully combatting.
However, we only have control of ourselves, so what can you do now? Nothing. One way to think about it is to reframe the scenario. If the two individuals in question both identified as the same gender, would the question still exist? Would you handle the dynamic differently? If not then there is nothing to question or consider in your case either.
Next time a comment is made or an action is questioned, don’t react. Show that you are unaffected by the thought and that the idea doesn’t faze you as you continue with your work. Slowly you’ll see that the subtle remarks are made less and less until there is no afterthought.