Updated: Jun 16, 2020
What Did She Do?
I Stood Up to My Sexist Female Boss.
The Corporate Millennial Heroine: I work for a financial institution. One of the biggest in the country, a brand that has invested millions into women economic empowerment interventions and continues to advocate for women in their corporate culture and policies. My head of department and line supervisor is a woman. A strong, intelligent woman who has built an impressive career for herself with years of hard work, battling gender-based discrimination at different levels of her career. So, it is quite amusing to me to see that a woman of her status and background would end up being a female sexist. I was super excited to work with her when I first joined the team. I was looking forward to getting mentored and inspired by the powerful ‘female boss’. One week into my new role, I was hit with some shocking realizations. The usual practice at the office was that the line supervisor would complete an on-boarding session to new employees. I was excited for our first opportunity to touch base. But my excitement was paused when I walked into her office to be introduced and her first words to me were “A woman? Can you do the work? Please send her to Tola (one of her male colleagues)”. I was dumbfounded. Nonetheless, I let it slide. I mean, it could have just been a bad day. I had an older female colleague, Cindy, who had been working in the team for years. She was really intelligent, but I noticed she always seemed to be sidelined on the major projects. One day, our ‘female boss’ walked out of her corner office with a couple of files. It was just me and my Cindy in the office, our other male colleagues had gone out to work on a deliverable. In a condescending tone, the Female Boss screamed “Oh my gosh! The ‘big dogs’ are not around… Please call me when they get back”. This was extremely embarrassing because she was very loud and our other co-workers in the office (from other teams) could hear her very insulting comments. Cindy looked at me with a sad smile and said “Welcome to the team”. It was in that moment I knew I was working with a female sexist, and I knew that I had to do something about it.
How Did She Do it?
I just Had Enough, it was Time to Speak Up
The Corporate Millennial Heroine: I had been working in the team for almost over a year now. It had been a rather disappointing experience. I had somehow gotten used to the sexist comments and gender bias imposed by my sexist female boss. From being side-lined on projects, to being assigned menial tasks that did not help me grow or challenge me intellectually, to discrediting my successes, and even stealing or giving credit to my incompetent male colleagues for ideas and initiatives I brought to the table. I had grown used to the unjust practice until that faithful day. Cindy and I had worked on a proposal for a client tirelessly. It took us a lot of time and hard work. We were really proud of ourselves. Cindy was particularly excited for this. We presented it to the female boss. Soon after she reviewed the document, she called one of our male colleagues to her office and with her door ajar, and her voice audible, she said to our male colleague “You helped Cindy work on this right?”, without a second of hesitation, he responded “Yes ma”. Females Boss’ response after this was what knocked me out. She screamed again in her usual condescending tone “I knew those girls could not come up with something like this”. I was furious, but Cindy was more distraught. Her usually yellow face turned red. She stood up and calmly walked into the store room which was our usual place of refuge when things got too tense at work. I walked right behind her. As soon as we entered the store, Cindy sat on the chair and buried her face into her hands. Her tears were silent and very painful. I did not know what to say. Now, Cindy was in her late 30s. She had worked for our evil Female Boss for over 10 years, spent her entire career on this desk, enduring this treatment. I understand that she was from a different generation and had a calmer spirit than most people. But, her years of not speaking up had damaged her self-esteem and reduced her worth in the office. Cindy had a Phd., she was a first-class Graduate of Economics. She had so much more potential, but her light just seemed to be dimmed by the sexist acts of our Sexist Female Boss. In that moment, I saw myself in Cindy, I saw my future. I knew it was not what I wanted for myself. I crouched down beside her and wiped her tears and in a stern voice, I said “I’m going to tell that woman my mind”. Cindy, looked up and saw my face. She knew I was in one of those moods. She had seen me engage in email wars and corporate battles that I always won. So, she knew what I meant by what I just said. She held my hand and begged me not to say anything. But the time had come. As soon as I walked out of the store room, it was as if I was on fire. I walked straight into the Sexist Female Boss’ office and calmly asked why she used that kind of condescending tone towards myself and Cindy. She was shocked. I turned to Tola (our lying male colleague) and asked him when he made a contribution to the proposal and why he lied. He was dumbfounded, they both were. Then I said in a very calm but audible tone (audible enough for the entire extended office to hear) “With all due respect, Ma, that was a very sexist remark, which is rather disappointing coming from a woman of your status. This is not what this organization stands for and you need to put yourself in check”. Of course, she was rattled up by this public altercation. She went on a rampage, involved other senior colleagues and did everything to get me more rattled up. I stayed calm and did not utter any other word after that, I had passed my message loud and clear. The entire debacle escalated into a query, followed by a session with the Disciplinary Committee that gave me the opportunity to properly expose her sexist acts, backed up with evidences. This led to a letter of warning to her. She hated my guts after this, as expected. Cindy also found the courage to find another job after that incident. She is now the head of the same department in another institution, while I moved to another department with a boss that values equal opportunity. The Sexist female boss is still heading that function, but has since refused to have a woman on her team. Although, I hear she is now very careful with the way she talks around women. I strongly believe she will still meet her nemesis someday. I was just the introduction.
A Moment That Tested Her
Seeing Cindy Cry
The Corporate Millennial Heroine: My most difficult moment in this experience would be seeing Cindy cry. It broke my heart. This was a star whose light had been dimmed by a woman who was meant to be an enabler for other women to shine. It moved me to speak up, because I knew that silence meant acceptance. Cindy had accepted this behavior her entire career and so had given the Sexist Female Boss full permission to maltreat her. Something needed to be done.
Her Eureka Moment?
Realizing That I Wanted More for Myself
The Corporate Millennial Heroine: It was definitely me, realizing that I did not want a future for myself where my star was not allowed to shine bright because of a woman that had forgotten her responsibility to the women around her. I did not want to work in an environment that was going to reduce my value. I needed to speak up and fight the oppression I and Cindy faced because of our genders. I needed to uproot the issue from the source. It was one of the bravest moments of my career so far, also my proudest.
What She Learnt
The Corporate Millennial Heroine:
Women can be sexist, and it all stems from a lack of empathy for other women and the forgetfulness that comes with power and success.
Your silence in the face of sexism equals acceptance. Speak up and change the situation for yourself and other women around you.