How do you evaluate whether a workplace is sexist?
September 26, 2018 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I have found myself in the most sexist environment of my career, and as I consider switching roles or companies, I am wondering how I avoid this mistake again? What are the questions to ask or red/ yellow flags to look for?

I am a senior level executive and have been in my current role a few years. I have worked for both small and huge companies and I have found that large companies are a better fit for me. When I interviewed for my current role I did not see ANY flags of sexism, but then as soon as I started in the role I found that I was often: the only woman in the room, ignored entirely in meetings, talked over, my expertise is routinely dismissed and I’m not included in senior level decision making and meetings. My grand boss walks around our floor and talks to all of the men at my level, and just skips right by my office and goes to talk to the next guy. When he does have to talk to me I feel a good rapport, so I’m unclear why he won’t casually talk to me. My male colleagues also ignore me socially, which I find really strange because I have a lot of close work/industry friends who are men, and I’ve never experienced this in a workplace. This is also the only entirely white workplace I have been in (I’m also white).

The weirdest part of all of this is that I didn’t see it coming at all. There are several well respected senior women in my department (they socialize with me). In the interviews everyone (including grand boss) seemed thrilled with me and heavily recruited me. I know my boss pretty well and while he’s not really sexist, he is kind of clueless (I know now). I did not specifically ask anything to get at sexism because it didn’t seem to be an issue. However, I’m now at the point where I’m considering moving on and I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

I’m not sure how to evaluate an environment in advance. My best work environment was one that was heavily male dominated, but my grand boss at that job was a mentor to me and awesome, and they overtly worked on themselves and their biases. It was also diverse in terms of race, which maybe led to less overall “us vs them” behavior.

Do I seek out a more diverse team in terms of race? One with a certain percentage of women? One with a stated diversity goal? What questions can I ask? I will certainly try to find places where I can find a trusted inside person to ask, but at my level it’s not always possible.

How have you evaluated sexism when you job hunt?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You really cannot tell in interviews -- I do not think there is a magic question. The most reliable way to find out is to have a friend or friend of a friend who has worked there as a woman who can report. If you are on LinkedIn, it may be easier to get an introduction through contacts that will give you the scoop. Online reviews for your industry may be available for large companies. It is really hard to suss out from the outside. I worked somewhere that was led by a woman who identified as a feminist with many female employees and it was the most sexist workplace I have ever encountered.
posted by *s at 7:01 AM on September 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

"Can you tell me what $company is doing to promote diversity in the workplace?" If they can't detail specific initiatives, don't work there. If your interviewer admits that the company knows it can do better and is trying, that's a green flag.
posted by capricorn at 7:16 AM on September 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

"entirely white workplace"

I'm assuming you're in the US. At least, where I live (in a major metropolitan region in the US), you have to work pretty hard to make that lack of diversity happen. All white people probably means that somebody in the organization is actively working against having diversity in the workplace. Discrimination against one marginalized group is going to imply discrimination against another.

Yes - you should seek out workplaces where the breakdown of diversity reflects the diversity of the community where the workplace is located. Look for diversity of marginalized groups (not just race, but also gender identity, sexual orientation, class, disability, and age) across the entire spectrum of the company. Especially in high level executive functions - if there's never been c-level executives in a marginalized group in the company, that should be a massive red flag. If the company is 25% women in an area where 52% of the employable population is women, you're going to have a bad time. If there's minorities in the company, but they're only on staff in the lowest pay grades, you're going to have a bad time.
posted by enfa at 7:22 AM on September 26, 2018 [10 favorites]

Entirely white? More likely to be conservative, lean toward authoritarianism and that tends toward anti-woman bias. All white likely means they will not have spent any time examining their unconscious biases because they don’t have to.

Do the senior women have children? That’s a red flag for me now, if they don’t. It may mean that women have been forced out or, most likely, just somehow magically made the decision that children and this workplace weren’t compatible. Senior women with small children at home is a positive sign. Granted, it’s not always easy to tell what people’s family makeup is.

Two other flags for me are talks of “we’re a team!” and this phrase in particular, “we work hard to play hard.” That last one means to me, “I own your time and when you’re done we’ll drink to forget.” YMMV.

I’ve had some very disappointing experiences with senior women. My expectations of them are very high. My interest in cultivating them as a mentor has been quite keen. But in a few cases this was entirely not going to happen. Especially if they are successful in a bad culture.
posted by amanda at 7:29 AM on September 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Even if you don't have/don't plan to have/are done having kids, ask to see the benefits policies and review what their parental leave is like, see how generous they are with sick leave, see if they have a lactation room, etc. My sense is that companies that are less sexist will have better/more family-friendly leave policies - and they will be open to both women AND men taking leave for a new baby. I agree with others that having a large company be entirely white is really, really bizarre in this day and age and is a red flag. I can possibly see that happening in a very small company (like, under 10 people? even smaller? I've worked at a few all-white organizations but they were 4-5 people each) and being less weird and intentional, but a large company? Yikes. Also, this isn't possible in many fields, but....look at how many women work there and at what levels. My field is very heavily dominated by women, and for all the problems I've had professionally, sexism and being sexually harassed has not really been one of them.
posted by john_snow at 7:46 AM on September 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Other questions to ask in an interview that might help suss this out:

- What kind of professional development and/or mentoring opportunities do you offer?
- How do you foster team cohesion and collaboration?
- How are decisions made on this team?
posted by brookeb at 9:20 AM on September 26, 2018

Assuming that you will be interviewing with a variety of people within the organization, ask about what tasks everybody is doing and pay attention to those that are being done by the women and men who are on the same level and in similar roles. Who is getting the scut work and who is getting the more interesting, creative, challenging, innovative tasks? Also, what is the ratio of women to men within the teams doing similar jobs? For example, is the front line customer support team all or mostly women?
posted by jazzbaby at 10:05 AM on September 26, 2018

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