I have a sense I am being victimised and singled out (with negative implications) in a largely male leadership team. I find it mentally and emotionally draining, but still forge ahead. The discrimination is super subtle. I am made to feel uncomfortable, the tone, tenor, body language is very posturing – how should I handle this?

ForumCategory: ColleaguesI have a sense I am being victimised and singled out (with negative implications) in a largely male leadership team. I find it mentally and emotionally draining, but still forge ahead. The discrimination is super subtle. I am made to feel uncomfortable, the tone, tenor, body language is very posturing – how should I handle this?
Jaya Sharma Staff asked 2 years ago

4 Answers
Sonali Sinha answered 2 years ago

Hi, if you are sensing discrimination, there must be something to it. It’s tough to deal with and you might be going through a range of emotions.
So first things first, I would encourage you to speak to someone you trust and someone who will listen to you without judgement. A coach can hold this space for you to vent and explore how you are thinking and feeling about the situation.
Once you have had a chance to vent, I would invite you to examine the situation from different perspectives. How we see situations is strongly determined by our perspective. So it’s important to make sure we make an attempt to see all perspectives. Some questions that can help are as follows:
What behaviours make you uncomfortable?
What makes you believe that such behaviour is intentional?
Have you experienced such similar behaviours earlier?
What strategies supported you in the past?
How would you like people to behave with you?
Have you stated you thoughts about the situation with the person concerned?
What is the exact nature of discrimination you are sensing?
What are you observing about the behaviour with other women leaders around you?
These question will help you clarify what exactly is bothering you and whether these would be seen as discrimination by others as well.
Once you have gone through this process, if you are convinced that there is discrimination, then the next step is to decide what you want to do about it. Is this something you need to formally complain about or can be handled by either a direct conversation with the concerned person(s) or through a mediator?
It is important to approach the situation firmly and assertively. Talk specifically with the concerned person(s) about the situation rather than making broad sweeping statements.  The more specific you are, the less likely are they to be able to deny or minimize the situation. Talk about how their behaviour made you feel. Sometimes having such conversation firmly but respectfully can do the trick, make them aware and lead to gradual behaviour change.
If you choose to report the discrimination instead, it’s important to understand that it may lead to different kinds of reactions and there could possibly be some negative consequences for you. The idea is not to dissuade you from taking action but to make sure that you are mentally prepared for the tussle that will likely follow and are ready to deal with the potential fallouts.
Also consider what will be the consequences of not reporting the discrimination. How will it impact your self-esteem and your career? How will things change in the company? Sometimes the top management may not realize that there is a discriminatory culture in the organisation and such reporting can actually sensitize them and change things for the positive for all levels.
After considering the pros and cons of reporting the discrimination, take a decision. If you choose to report the discrimination, it’s important to gather evidence before you do so. When the discrimination is subtle, it’s even more difficult but you can take detailed notes of the situation. These will come in handy when questions are raised. Make note of what happened, who said what, when it happened, etc. Make sure not to bend any rules or use company resources while doing so.
The next step is to identify who you will report this to. It has to be a person senior enough and mature enough to take this forward. Explore whether this is an area that’s covered under the POSH rules and whether you can approach the Internal Complaints Committee. Understand your company’s grievance procedure or discrimination policy and go to the concerned person for making a formal complaint.
While the above courses of action may seem tough, not being able to do something about it also has its negative impact on our sense of self in the long run. Think through what it is that you want at the core and work towards it. I wish you the very best! Please feel free to reach out directly if you feel like discussing further.

Jaya Sharma Staff replied 2 years ago

This is a brilliant, sensitive and detailed response – love your insights Sonali.  I think the way forward is very clear to me – I need to sit down and chart out what my response will be to the situation I face, and how I can, by my actions impact positive change so that I not only do I stop being a ‘victim’ but perhaps we can move to a situation where this will not continue to be a problem in the future.
Thanks a lot for your response.
This following question amongst the list you shared was particularly thought provoking – and I think it will be my endeavour to get more women into a our senior team.

What are you observing about the behaviour with other women leaders around you?

Gita.J answered 2 years ago

For what it’s worth, this isn’t an uncommon phenomenon, sadly. Subtle discrimination is even harder to fight sometimes, simply because it is harder to identify. I’d like to know more about your specifics, so do message me privately if you like, but generally speaking there are 2 complementary approaches to solving this.
1. If your org is reasonably progressive / open, informally escalate this issue to someone senior – preferable senior women leaders, or your POSH IC committee members. They may not only be able to intervene, but gender discriminatory behavior can fall under workplace sexual harassment. The org is responsible for fixing this. Aside – this may still be a case for your IC, even if you feel the other leaders may not be sympathetic to your pov.
2. There are assertive behaviors that may help you address these issues with your team in a non-confrontational way, or even call these behaviors out in real time to express your discomfort. I’d be happy to suggest some of those strategies separately.
There are also other possible solutions, depending – for ex. a change of teams / roles etc. etc. I can get into that after I understand the details better.
Hope this helps!

Jaya Sharma Staff replied 2 years ago

Thanks for offering for me to reach out.  I have got my current course of action sorted – will reach out if I get stuck.

Sony Swamy answered 2 years ago

The truth is, you don’t know what they are thinking. So, its best not to assume. Be super comfortable in your skin, think of the larger picture of the work and service your company is doing, talk work with passion. And you’re in.

Jaya Sharma Staff replied 2 years ago

This has worked in the past.  But this team is different – I think rather than forging ahead and ‘surviving’ it I need to get the leadership team to course correct the way !

Deepmala Ghosh answered 2 years ago

Hi ! I agree with Sonali that the situation needs some introspection and she has asked some relevant questions. To that I would like to add :
1. Talk to other female workers and see if they feel the same way and how they handled. It might give you some insights.
2.  Is the victimisation plain case of misogyny, or because you are very good at your job or is there something about you that annoys others? I am not at all suggesting victim blaming but sometimes our unconscious behaviour like talking loudly to  girlfriends, family or kids  on the phone in a closed atmosphere can irritate co-workers ( its a personal experience) and that overshadows all the good work.
3.  As Sonali suggested, you may explore  talking it out. I would suggest  first try a one to one open conversation with lesser of the evils to begin with. Sometimes people are also victims of “groupthink” where everybody behaves the way the bully/leader behaves. You can subtly make a few of them change their attitude when confronted alone.
4. If it is because you are very good at your job which is often the case, make it work for you. Offer to help them individually with their work but don’t do it to please or placate. Just a subtle point to show how good you are at what you do. After all its a team work, sooner or later people do realise the larger good.
5.  If else, you choose to report, find out  the history of such cases in your organisation and likely fall out.  POSH comes only if it is of a sexual nature. There are some very good reports on POSH in the net, read them carefully.
6. Best of luck!

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