The Problem

phelps-headline-sexistI think my team might be sexist …what can I do?

You may have been made aware of the presence of a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) sexism within your team / organisation, and now need to find ways to address it. It is a sensitive and tricky area and you are not quite sure what would be the best way forward but you know you have to do something.

The Solution:

Start with the language. Language shapes organisational culture and an obvious (and perhaps easier) way to reshape that culture is to address the language used. So listen to the language used by your team, language that indicates the presence of sexism, however unconscious that might be.

First Ask. Find a safe way to elicit authentic feedback / conversation from the women within your team / organisation as to the real state of play. This might need external facilitation or anonymity depending on the prevailing conditions. Don’t assume you can simply ask once and get an honest answer. If your environment is toxic then it is likely that what you hear (at first asking) is not what you need to hear.

Then compile a list of words (and phrases) that you might suspect are not acceptable. This might be a list not of your own making but something that is developed in the ‘asking’ process. Start to note when such words are used in conversation and pay attention to the responses. Just listen for a time. Allow your own awareness to develop a sharpened sensitivity to what is happening and as you do so, test this with those you feel will provide deeper insights and encourage you to hear that which still remains ‘hidden’.

Make a conscious effort to change your own language and behaviour before addressing it more formally. Trust me, your efforts will not go unnoticed! This might mean not laughing at a comment or joke; deliberately steering the conversation away from a certain topic or rethinking the activity or pursuit to ensure it is more inclusive.


My Story I have a very smart daughter (who just so happens to be a psychologist) to thank for my own development in this journey… one that I’m quick to acknowledge is a long way from ‘complete’! Through hearing and seeing some of her own challenges and struggles to her willingness to challenge my own language and actions thereby exposing my own biases, slow gains have been made. Early in my career, I remember being part of a leadership team with only one female member and although a respectful and well-intentioned team, we were guilty of several failings that meant she often felt excluded. It was her courage to speak-up and a willingness to hear that sparked my start along this road all those years ago. For that I will be eternally grateful.

Dealing differently with difference

At TomorrowToday Global, we approach the issue of diversity and inclusion from the perspective of business performance. Our research has identified a list of business benefits that companies can access if they change their approach to diversity and truly engage with the value of difference in their people.

This requires both a shift in mindset and the development of new skills. We have to shift our goals: the end result of diversity is not harmony, but balance and a healthy ecosystem; we’re not aiming to build a ‘zoo’ where we can tick off the different species we have, but keep them caged up; we need to learn how to be different for each other and not just different from each other. You can find out more about the TomorrowToday framework we call Leading Difference here.

Don’t hesitate to connect with us if your and your organisation are serious about the business benefits of diversity.

TomorrowToday Global