Jun 16, 2017

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

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?


I have struggled with this, which is why I wrote the blog post, and why Arianna's Huffington's response was something that grabbed my attention. It seems that in the moment, she laughed uncomfortably, gently chided him (saying, "Oh come on, David!"), and it seems that she took care in the background to lay the footwork to make this something that was unacceptable. Multiple people talked to HR. I'm guessing she might have had an offline conversation with him after the meeting. And all the complaints led to him leaving the Board. 

If that is the case, in the moment, she did what I would have done - gentle chide in front of people as to somewhat call it out as not okay, but not totally devastate him in public, and then raging, impassioned action in the background that led to him getting kicked off the Board. 

I'm part of a group called Women In Digital, and we're talking about whether we could indeed come up with some kind of guidance, advice, or curriculum that walk women through the responses they could have when situations like this arise. I'll share we we have more details. 

Thanks so much for writing this! And thanks for sharing your awesome group with us. 

I'm not sure I've overcome it--but I keep trying! It is such a cultural shift for both men and women--and sometimes it is hard, especially in the workplace or when the person making the comments has 'power.'

But I have had a few responses that I worked on over the years, by putting it back on the person for THEM to explain and not for me to react. I think that is key.

From the super polite to the direct: "Excuse me?" or "I'm not certain I understand what you are trying to say. Would you repeat it please?" or "What do you mean?"

Anyone else have some good responses? Let's share them and get everyone on board!

A great blog - thanks.  The crosscutting issue is that we simply don't have adequate response tools to respond.

Options- David - that is ridiculous.

David- I cannot imagine why you say that.

David- you clearly need more training...

David- assuming that you were in fact trying to be funny, this meeting isn't about being funny but about changing directions and our culture

David- say What??

and on and on and on, depending on the tonal variation you or I would be comfortable with.  But I have reached the point where I am just not going to sit there- so...please weigh in with a series responses.

We truly are going to need toolkits for this kind of nonsense....and it is so pervasive, the toolkit needs to be pretty doggone huge.

The real issue here is that, whatever we decide on the spur of the moment to say, we really have to start saying it, always.  One person gets away with one of these comments, and we have backslid. 

I think I might have said ... David, was that supposed to be a joke?  Because it wasn't funny.

Awesome advice!

I would add ... We're talking here about sexist comments.  But I think as people who know what it feels like, we might, or should, also respond in like manner to racist, ageist, body-shaming, and other hurtful comments that should be addressed.  It's often the same people who do them all.

once we firm up our courage to say something, it will get easier and easier...and maybe just maybe we can change the world.

Hopefully HERdacity helps all of us tap in to that courage. 

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