Business of Men

Sexism at work is not acceptable: here’s how to deal with it


This guide outlines strategies and tactics for dealing with sexism at work and in business, to prevent it hindering your career and business goals.

Every woman has experienced sexism at work at some point in their careers. Whether it’s a crude joke in the office, being undervalued because of your gender, or a more sinister case of harassment, sexism at work and in business is a huge problem in workplaces across the country.

As a powerful businessperson or career women, you have the skills, experience, and motivation to achieve anything. Yet sexism at work from your peers can make your life far more difficult than it needs to be. The gender pay gap is a perfect example. On average, women are paid 7.9% less than their male counterparts who perform the same job role. There is no reason why a man’s work should be valued any more highly than a woman’s but that’s the way modern business often seems to function.

Female office workers often experience a high level of sexual harassment from colleauges and bosses, and countless pregnant mothers have reported maternity discrimination, in which they are penalised for having children while fathers suffer little to no negative career consequences. This is also sexism at work.

If you are starting your own business, you are fortunate that you don’t have to deal with unpleasant bosses, and you can choose your own employees. But that doesn’t mean sexism at work can’t touch you. You will be meeting new people every day, pitching to potential clients, growing your network, and finding partners to liaise with. Many of these will be men, some of whom will be biased against you, consciously or not, for the mere fact of being a female in a male-dominated business landscape. From the very moment of company formation onwards, you will be battling sexism while fighting to get your business off the ground.

How to fight sexism at work

So what can you do to prevent sexism at work, misogyny and chauvinism from hindering your goals? Here are four ways you can fight discrimination and smash the glass celing.

Speak up

The majority of female entrepreneurs and careerists experience sexism at work and in business everyday, in various forms. This could be overt sexism, as demonstrated by the gender pay gap, maternity discrimaintation, inappropriate touching, or sexual comments. Or it could also take the form of casual sexism, which has become so ingrained in company culture that it oftens passes by unnoticed. This less obvious form of sexism may take the form of crude jokes, “mansplaining,” unwarranted compliments on your physical appearance, or simply being treated differently to other male members of your industry.

If you notice this happening to you or someone around you, the best thing you can do is speak up. Of course, your safety is your number one priority so if you don’t feel comfortable doing so then you should protect yourself. But if you are in an environment where you can call out sexism, it will help to make it a thing of the past. Tell the offender that their comments are unacceptable and explain why they need to change their behaviour. In many cases, they will continue to act in this way in future, but at least it lets them know that you will not tolerate it. Some men may not even realise how harmful their actions and words are until you take them to task. You might just be able to get through to them and make a difference.

Avoid toxic people

As an entrepreneur, you may have the pleasure of choosing the people you work with. And if you deem a potential customer, partner, or employee to be displaying sexist attitudes you should avoid working with them if possible. In the early stages of your company, you may not be able to afford to turn down business, so use your discretion in this matter. But refusing to work with toxic people sends a message that sexism at work will not be tolerated, and sexists should be limited in their opportunities unless they are willing to change their ways.

Instead, surround yourself with positive people who empower and inspire you to be better. Work with companies who employ and respect women, and hire a team of staff who get along and share the same values.

Boost women

You are by no means the only woman in the business world who is experiencing sexism. But if you are an entrepreneur with your own company, or in a senior management role, you are in a unique position of power to fight sexism at work. Use this responsibility not only to advance your own career, but to boost other women too. Make an effort to work with female-owned businesses where possible, and cultivate a female-dominated team. This will actively help to create more opportunities for women in business and establish a more tolerant environment. Use your network to shout about female entrepreneurs and organisations who are doing great things in the industry and consider becoming a mentor to help women get a leg up on the career ladder.

Fight internal sexism

If you have a team of employees working to help you grow your business, you need to be aware of the dynamics at play. It’s likely you will have a mixed-gender workplace, and it’s possible that sexism at work, whether casual or overt, could be at play. It’s important to be a hands-on boss, getting to know each member of your team and working closely with them. Let them know from the outset that such behaviours will not be tolerated, and make it clear that they can come to you if they are experiencing problems. Of course you will use your best judgement when hiring new employees, but it’s not always possible to spot a red flag at such an early stage.

If a male team member has been reported for sexism at work, you need to deal with the issue promptly. For more serious transgressions, an immediate dismissal will be appropriate. But for casual sexist remarks or inappropriate humour, it may be enough to give them a warning and have a conversation about their behaviour to try and change their ways.


In conclusion, it can be a struggle to get ahead as a woman in business. You have all the stress of growing a company from scratch with the added obstacles of discrimination, sexism at work, and misogyny to contend with, But as long as you stand up for what is right and create an atmosphere of tolerance around your business, you can make a big difference.

Photo by Viktoria Slowikowska

About Business Woman Media

Our women don’t want to settle for anything but the best. They understand that success is a journey involving personal growth, savvy optimism and the tenacity to be the best. We believe in pragmatism, having fun, hard-work and sharing inspiration. LinkedIn

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