Navigating the sometimes daily grind of office life is no easy feat. Between having to deal with work politics, constant (but not always necessary) meetings and petty colleagues, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve been dropped into a boxing ring armed with nothing but your wits.
And while we’re not discounting the fact that men also experience their fair share of grievances in the office, it’s much harder if you’re a woman.
I recently read an article in Bustle in which hepeating, a new term that describes the act in which an ignored idea pitched by a woman is praised and accepted when it’s repeated by a man, emerged.
The term hit home with a lot of women.
From mansplaining and being constantly interrupted, to comments about what we’re wearing and dealing with underhanded jibes about our qualifications, hepeating is just another notch on the list of workplace sexism and microaggressions women have to deal with on a constant basis.
And the biggest problem here is that no matter how overt or subtle it is, many of us feel that we can’t address the issue because society has always dictated that we act demurely as women whose demeanours should be rooted in being quiet and complacent – particularly in workplace environments.
In many cases, job security is on the line – particularly in toxic workplace environments that actively refuse to be inclusive in terms of equal opportunities and assigned roles.
Not only that when some women do speak up, they’re often gaslighted and made to question whether their experiences are actually real or valid, which makes this in itself an additional microaggression to deal with on top of everything else.
From invasive questions about when you’re planning to be a mother and how it will affect your job performance to being tone policed when expressing an opinion and then being asked if “it’s that time of the month”, these remarks and questions are designed to make us question our worth.
Unfortunately it can be even worse when you’re a person of colour. For example, when someone is “surprised” that you’re so eloquent and articulate. Or assuming that someone is the tea lady or cleaner (Note, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these jobs, but there is something wrong when there is gender and racial bias attached to them).
The problem with these little jibes is that they aren’t going to go away any time soon, but the more we address the issue the more we become aware of the fact and as such can call people out on their behaviour.
There’s actually a really great article on Mater Mea.com that dishes out some handy advice on how to combat this and force people to re-evaluate what they’re actually saying.
For example: In response to people being surprised that you as a black person can speak “so well”, you should ask why they’re surprised.
Turn the tables on them by asking them what makes you so different that they’re surprised about your eloquence and take it a step further by questioning them about whether or not they speak any other languages fluently.
Quick anecdote: My mother once told me about one of her professors who clap backed at a white person who called a black man stupid for not being able to speak Afrikaans. The professor said, and I quote, “well, if he had to speak to you in his mother tongue, [and you couldn't understand or respond] wouldn’t that make you stupid?”
You might not think that things like this matter if it’s never happened to you but it does. It’s the difference between being happy at work and constantly feeling like you’re a placeholder whose well-being at work doesn’t matter.
We’ve asked one or two women to share some of their experiences at workplace and their responses are pretty telling:
READ MORE: 10 things women wish their sexist bosses would stop saying
Janet,* a transgender woman says her workplace environment is toxic and she constantly feels as if she’s never taken seriously. These are just a few of awful work behaviours she experiences on a daily basis:
1. The worst example for me is when you try to resolve a problem etc. and you are told it is all in your head or you are imagining the problem (AKA gaslighting).
2. From a trans perspective, being misgendered and dead named more than two years after your official gender and name change - it is no longer confusion or an accidental mistakes.
3. Staring. For the most part, I dress and express myself in a way that’s gender neutral but some days I do dress more femininely. Because of this I am often scanned from top to bottom by some people every time I dress this way. Shockingly enough in this case I also experience discrimination from some of the women here who do this. I can't tell you how uncomfortable it makes me feel.
4. Human interaction: Some people treat you like they treat everyone else, but others will turn their backs on you and or refuse to greet you when you greet them.
5. Social interaction: Social functions at work are supposed to be events for people at work to mix and mingle. Nothing is more awkward when people purposefully push you aside or ignore you.
Also, being purposefully excluded when organising gender specific functions is another example.
Nicole* works in a division where the majority of her co-workers are mostly men, and it clearly shows in the interactions she deals with on a daily basis.
I've been at my company for over a year now and 'hepeating' is one of the reasons why I don't speak up when it comes to suggesting ideas. The amount of times I've said something, no one listens or everyone just ignores me.
And then when one of the guys suggests the same idea I have, everyone says YES and I'm left feeling like a fool.
In terms of sexist behaviour, I feel it constantly! I always feel undermined.
One day, one of the guys asked me to ask my supervisor whether we could go to an event and I asked him why he couldn’t ask himself. He said (and I will NEVER forget it), he said "Mark* is soft on you, he likes you more than anyone else. He can't say no to you. You're a girl".
I was shocked!
Since, then I've become tentative about asking for things because I worry that they think I get away with things because I’m a girl. I’m sure they already think that anyway.
*Not their real names
WATCH: How microaggressions are like mosquito bites
Have you experienced any of the abovementioned forms of microaggressions? Share your stories with us.