Working for a sexist manager can lower your morale and stymie your career growth. For example, your boss may stop offering you “stretch” assignments once you return to work from maternity leave, or display a subtle bias against your presence in tech.
Studies also show that women receive more verbal praise than their male counterparts but lower numerical ratings related to job performance.
“How you respond to your boss depends upon the kind of sexism and practices you are facing,” said Joan Williams, distinguished professor of law and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings (and co-author of “What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know”)
Here are four common ways managers subtly discriminate against female tech pros, as well as some practical tips for dealing with it:
Does your boss hold you to a higher standard than your male counterparts? Are you told that you’re not ready to be a team lead, all while less-qualified men receive promotions? Does your manager magnify your mistakes and overlook your successes?
Documenting your achievements and strategically inserting them into one-on-one conversations can help you deal with a manager who has a selective memory. And clarifying what you need to do to earn a promotion or work on a high-profile project can establish a path forward and help to ensure similar standards for male and female professionals.
“Forward copies of complimentary notes to your boss and members of your network to make sure your accomplishments aren’t discounted,” Williams advised. “If you receive a verbal accolade, send a thank-you note documenting the praise and copy your network.”
Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
Women in tech who aren’t naturally competitive or assertive can end up perceived as too feminine to be competent by their male bosses. Assertive women, meanwhile, may find themselves regarded as too masculine to be likeable.
“Women in tech often have to walk a tightrope in order to get ahead,” Williams noted. “Asserting yourself in a feminine way tends to limit pushback.”
The “Gender judo” technique uses principles such as leverage and balance to turn your boss’s biased mindset against him. You win by demonstrating masculine traits in selective situations and putting a feminine spin on your actions when you need to be tough. In fact, a study by Stanford School of Business concluded that women who were able to tap masculine traits to handle specific situations were three times more likely to get promoted than “masculine” women who didn’t self-monitor their behavior.
Relegated to Office Housework
A downside of displaying your feminine side is that your boss may saddle you with office “housework.” Before you know it, you’re so busy planning meetings and organizing team-building events that you don’t have time to learn new technologies or lobby for high-value projects.
In order to prevent that from happening, don’t volunteer or offer to do more than your fair share. If your boss asks you to organize the annual holiday party say: “Sure, I’ll do it as long as the guys help out,” advised Dr. Al Bernstein, a psychologist and business consultant.
Volunteer to set up a rotation that ensures equitable distribution of office housework among employees. If your boss persists, tell him you’re too busy and suggest a capable replacement.
The Motherhood Penalty
You return from maternity leave raring to go, but your boss seems to feel that you’re no longer interested in advancing your career.
“The minute you start getting those vibes, request a career discussion with your boss,” Williams said. “Talk about your long-term goals and agree on an action plan and timeline. If your boss admits that he didn’t consider you for a time-consuming project because you have kids, tell him you appreciate his concern and assure him that you are capable of balancing home and work responsibilities.”
If your boss continues to show sexist tendencies or preferential behaviors, it may be best to request a transfer or look for a new job. Sometimes, the best way to deal with a sexist boss is by escaping to a fresh, better position somewhere else.