Answer from Karen Adams, CEO, The Prosperous Shop
As the female CEO of a tech start-up, I'm keen to offer my experience, wisdom, and advice.
I am the founder of a tech start-up and work with a team of 6 brilliant men. We are a strong team. All of them have been nothing but supportive and respectful from the outset. No covert attacks. Just people who share the same mission as me. They are that calibre of man that have sufficient confidence and decency as not to seek to oppress me. They appear to see me, my worth, and my ability. And they let me be me. And they help me to be a better me professionally.
By contrast, I have experienced some covert sexist comments/attacks in my life. I don't have a script for you, but here's my wisdom;
- Covert attacks are passive-aggressive. This is one of the most unpleasant and difficult-to-deal-with personality types.
- As a general rule, it is best to respond to covert sexist attacks with an overt, calm-assertive response that refers to the attack.
- I will say this though: Pick your battles. If you find that you are having to deal with repeated or frequent attacks, remove the person from your life. If that's not easy, limit your exposure to the person. If that's not possible, i.e. if you work with this person, then raise a complaint. Deal with it. Be aware that, in dealing with it, you may cause other sexist men to draw ranks against you. You have to be prepared for a battle.
- Sometimes, you will have to ignore a covert sexist attack if it threatens to pull you from your focus/destiny. As founders, we have to singlemindedly pursue our goals. Any negative person can suck an enormous amount of emotional and psychological energy if you let them. Don't stop to correct every single transgression that you come across. You cannot police the entire universe. If it doesn't threaten your chosen path and your mission, you may just have to keep on moving and ignore it.
- When you challenge covert sexism, think beforehand what outcome you are seeking. Do you want to create a change in the person? Do you want to set a boundary? Do you want to communicate that your feelings have been hurt? Do you want that person to walk away and never look back? What do you want to achieve? Give this some thought before you open your mouth to respond. This is wisdom — thinking first before responding.