Four female White House staffers told important and powerful stories of casual sexism in the workplace this week, including how they used a rhetorical trick to fight back against the trend of "manterrupting." Women can learn from this story by putting the trick to use in their own casually sexist workplaces, but the real audience who needs to hear about this is working men.
In the original article from The Washington Post, the female White House staffers divulged the secret of their collaborative effort to fight back against the sexism they were facing. They used a trick called amplification to reinforce each other's points during meetings, making men less likely to interrupt them while speaking and less likely to steal or take credit for their ideas. By repeating each other's good points and giving credit to the woman who came up with a good idea, they were able to increase how often they were called on in meetings and decrease how often they were interrupted.
Although this is merely anecdotal evidence of casual workplace discrimination, there's plenty of empirical evidence too. According to recent studies compiled by the National Women's Law Center, women face harmful stereotypes in the workplace that limit opportunities for advancement and duties within their jobs, encourage pejorative attitudes toward women from coworkers, and decrease pay. Women are all too familiar with these realities, but to men, they may be startling to realize.
When a woman tells you that the workplace is not fair for her, she's probably not making it up. It's absolutely critical for men to be allies, to actively work on combating workplace sexism, and to ensure that female coworkers feel appreciated and safe in their offices. Even in the White House, the idealized pinnacle of efficient, meritocratic workplaces, women were being systematically undervalued. Men have both a responsibility and an incentive to make the workplace more equal — where's the pride and satisfaction in doing a job that's made easier for you because it's made harder for your female coworkers? The bottom line is that no one wins when there's sexism in the workplace, and everyone has to come together to put it to an end.
Of course, the women should have never needed to use this trick in the first place, but it's crucial that women tell stories like this. Women can't expect coworkers and bosses to know what they're struggling with unless they speak up, and while silence doesn't excuse sexist behavior, it does tacitly allow sexism in the workplace to continue. Men need to hear women tell stories like this so that they can end their problematic behaviors, instead of forcing women to create adaptive strategies just to get fair representation in the workplace.