Jun 16, 2017

Interests: Breaking Down Barriers, Building It Your Way, Creativity, How Do You Dare?, Opening The Next Door, WTH?!

Author: Larissa at HERdacity

Reacting to Sexism: What's Your 'In the Moment' Response Strategy?

Audio from an Uber board meeting went viral this week after board member David Bonderman made a sexist comment to fellow board member Arianna Huffington.

Arianna responded by nervously laughing the comment off saying, “Oh, come on David.”  

Headlines like this followed...

"An Uber Board Member Made a Sexist Joke During, Yes, the Meeting About Uber’s Sexist Corporate Culture"

And like this…

"Uber’s All-Hands Meeting Got Derailed By A Sexist Joke"

And ones like this….

 “Arianna Huffington Letting David Bonderman’s Sexism Slide Hurts More Than the Joke Itself”

In a blog you can read here, Annie Hardy defined Arianna’s response as the “Uncomfortable Laugh” writing,  

“And in those moments in my professional life, I’ve been struck, not quite knowing how to respond. Wanting to stand for something, but having to carefully measure the impact of my response on my relationship with this peer, my career potential, the possibility of being blacklisted for opportunities. 

We need to find and promote a better in-the-moment response than an Uncomfortable Laugh.” 

QUESTION: What would you have said if you were Arianna Huffington? If you’ve overcome the “Uncomfortable Laugh” how did you do it? What is the better in-the-moment response?


Really tough to say what I would do if......the dynamics of roles within organizations is part of this. Am I going to call out the Board Chair when I am invited to the meeting to present?  In public, no. Would I talk with an administrative colleague and either solo or with a person above me, speak to the Board Chair?  Yes. If we had an HR department, would I use them as a resource?  Yep. 

If it's a colleague at the lunch table, do I acknowledge the comment- yes I have. When chats become gossip or cross the line, have I left the table and followed up after the fact?  Yes- because for me it's about the personal relationships and shaming them in a public setting most likely won't get you to where you'd like to go. 

Finding SOME way to acknowledge the comment so it is clear that it doesn't sit well with one, some, many or most in the room is critical.....so wish it were easier to do.  I have definitely Monday morning QB'd situations and gone through the "I wish I'd done X or I should have said Y." If it sticks with me, I follow up with that person- even when the uncomfortable laugh is on the inside and I'd prefer to do ANYTHING else. 

Well, I started with filing an official complaint with HR. She told the management team. I was bullied relentlessly. I left, and sued. I won. End of story!

So this is esprit de l'escalier, what you realize what you should've said only upon reaching the stairwell.  But...  "Wait!  You're riffing on oxymorons, like limp hard-on or humorous sexism."  

-reference to implied male-only inclusion, check.

-reference that immediately deflates potential shared excitement, check.

Calling out the problem, check.

If I were an equal in standing on a board, or in another situation, I would have absolutely called the person out for his language/joke/behavior. I have been in similar situations where I was a subordinate to the person making the comment or joke, and as such was forced to bite my tongue and keep silent, but even an uncomfortable laugh is tacit approval of what has been said. 

Awesome feedback. Thank you. 

I think the question of what to do based on your level compared to the offender is a very important and complicated one, indeed. 

Agreed. It can be quite complicated--and unfortunate this is what most of us face. Maybe a few more years and a bit more enlightenment and education will help propel this issue forward in ways that it will no longer an issue. Possible?

I will gladly accept an apology in front of this boardroom as that type of comment degraded me and other women. It is not tolerated today nor will it be tolerated in the future. Comments like this put up walls and impede a trustful working climate. So anytime you're ready...

Awesome response! Thank you for sharing! 

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