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How to Handle Sexism at Work

How to Handle Sexism at Work

I can't believe I'm writing this. But after Uber.....and you too, Jared and Kay Jewelers......and after we’ve read about “bro talk” on Wall Street and on the backlot of Access Hollywood....I'm getting a lot of questions on how to handle sexism at work.

While I had hoped that we were far from the days when I started out – and found a photocopy of a male package (yes, that kind of package) on my desk every day – it looks like we’re not. Back then, I didn’t know of any option other than to pretend to laugh, crumple up the paper and throw it away; here’s what I would do today in these situations, from Defcon 1 to Defcon 5+:

Defcon 1: Some old guy asks you to get him coffee.

My view on this: don’t waste your energy getting upset about it. He was brought up in a different era, and his declining faculties probably haven’t alerted him to the fact that things have changed. Besides, if you get upset at him, you’ll be labeled a b*tch. So save your ire for other things and deflect by saying something like “Jedidiah, I’ll grab the coffee this time, if you get it next time.” Not your most clever come-back, but it gets the job done.

Defcon 2: Your peer keeps taking credit for your idea.

Here’s where I operate with what I call MRI (“most respectful interpretation”). He / she doesn’t even notice that they’re doing it! He/she’s a well-meaning person; they’re just a little over zealous. So have the “courageous conversation” with them. (I say courageous because this will likely make you feel a bit uncomfortable and maybe pit out, if you were brought up in a non-confrontational household.)

It goes like this: “Hey, Kyle / Katrina. You may not even realize it, but you claimed credit for x amazing idea, y innovative insight and z company-redefining research. Those came from me, so please direct credit to where credit is due.” If he / she’s really a good person, you’ve just shared a key insight with them; if they’re a jerk, you’ve just put them on notice.

What if they keep at it? Well, having an ally in the meeting can really help, someone who is armed to say “Hey Kyle / Katrina, I liked that idea when Susie presented it, and I like it even better now hearing her idea a second time.” No ally? (Well, that’s a different issue and one you need to solve. But let’s tackle that later.) Then you’ll need put your big girl pants on, interrupt Kyle / Katrina and take credit for yourself.

Defcon 3: A peer or more senior level executive makes inappropriate comments, generally leers at you or repeatedly asks you out.

Tell him / her to cut it out in no uncertain terms. It happens again? Go straight to your boss with the facts and times.

Defcon 4: Your boss won’t act on your complaint, or it’s your boss who acts inappropriately.

Go to HR. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Write down words as exactly as you can remember them and dates and times.

Defcon 5+: HR doesn’t respond.

Next stop: the CEO. Hang outside his / her door if you must, but get to the CEO. Ditto with facts and times; be as exact as possible.

An alternative is that many companies have a means for anonymous reporting of HR issues like this. Skip the fretting about whether the HR hotline is actually, really, seriously anonymous (unless you work for a truly evil place, it is), and report the issue.

Defcon 5+: The CEO doesn’t respond / there is no reaction to your anonymous report.

Get the hell out of there. Find yourself another job, at another company, fast. Why fast? Because this isn’t a company at which you want to work for one more minute than you need to; and your career is at risk. It’s at risk because of the toxic environment in which you work, and it can be at risk if they choose to retaliate against you if you escalated the issue to the CEO.

Once you’re out, you can now pick one of two paths: breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief, or – my preference – continue to push the issue. For example, how about write a letter to members of your former company’s board of directors, outlining what happened; again, with exact descriptions and dates? Don’t want to? I get it; I promise I get it. But think about this as a pay-it-forward for all of the women who still work there. (And if you’re in this situation, don’t you wish someone had done this for you??)

Extra credit points: Pull a Susan J Fowler and blog about it. Now that’s the way to change the world.

One key to all of this is making sure that, every step of the way, you’re in financial control: that you’re living within your salary, that you haven’t run up credit card debt, that you’ve got your Emergency fund set up (which should cover several months of living expenses) and that you’re saving and investing a portion of every paycheck.

Why? Because it is infinitely easier to say “take this job and shove it” when you’ve got more money. Too many people, for too many years, have been stuck in jobs (and relationships) in which they’ve been treated poorly, because they felt like they couldn’t afford to quit.



Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, an innovative digital investment platform for women, and Chair of Ellevate Network. She is also the best-selling author of “Own It: The Power of Women at Work” and the e-book “Mind the Gap – and Close It: The Ellevest Guide to Dominating Your Financial Future.”

A version of this article was published in Cosmopolitan UK.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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