‘Is there a man I can talk to?’: Stories of sexism in the workplace

Susan Chira and Brianna Milord
U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris
David McNew | Getty Images

Last week, after an Uber board member's wisecrack and the interruption of Sen. Kamala Harris during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, The New York Times asked women to share their own experiences. More than 1,000 responded, offering up vivid anecdotes of times they had been interrupted, penalized for speaking up, belittled or discriminated against in terms of salary, promotions or pregnancy.

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Some women asked to have their names withheld, fearing career repercussions. Several comments have been condensed for space.

David Bonderman recently resigned from his position on the board of Uber following news of his sexist remarks.
Bloomberg | Getty Images

'Moments later, a male in the room offers up my suggestion.'

Some women recalled moments when they relayed an idea during a meeting, only to have a male colleague chime in later and claim it as his own.

"I work in the oil and gas and power generation industry, and I am surrounded by mostly males.

"I offer suggestions and comments during meetings, and often my suggestions do not even get acknowledged. Then, moments later, a male in the room offers up my suggestion and claims it as his own, and everyone acts real supportive and cheers it on, so to speak.

"I have been on email threads with a team of colleagues, and if I state a fact that is not in agreement with what one of my male co-workers has said, he sends me a message later telling me that I need to 'soften my responses' to him.

"I have been told by friends and family members that have not seen me for a while that I speak 'with such authority,' even just in friendly conversation outside of work, and that I 'sort of talk more like a guy.' I am certain I picked this up at work, as I need to seem as 'unfeminine' as possible in order to be taken seriously."

Jennifer Kelly

"I am a [male to female] transgender engineer working for a large aerospace company. I transitioned mid-career. I have found that prior to my transition, my input and opinions in meetings were regarded and considered. Post-transition, I could render an opinion or assertion, and it seems that only when a male colleague affirms the same assertion, only then is it taken seriously. He will then get credit for the idea. This is apart to constantly being interrupted while speaking.

"If anyone wants to proclaim that this type of behavior does not exist, I have my life, lived in two genders, to refute this."

Christienne Frank

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A male colleague said, 'I'm sure you know a lot about cleaning.' People chuckled.

Some women shared stories about having sexist remarks hurled at them during meetings or having their contributions ignored.

"I am an associate professor in informatics with a Ph.D. in Computer Science. Most recently, while at a meeting discussing faculty hires, I was explaining how a job candidate (who was a man) should not be hired for our faculty slot because he had never worked with medical data, which is sparse, messy and needs a lot of cleaning.

"I was cut off after the 'cleaning' part by a male colleague saying, 'I'm sure you know a lot about cleaning.' People chuckled."

Name Withheld

"At a former company, the C-suite was dominated by men, but management was predominantly women. I remember sitting with two other intelligent women waiting for the C.E.O., and when he walked in, he looked around and said, 'Where are all the guys?'

"If he had only realized that we were the ones getting stuff done."

Jen Pinner

"I am a retired attorney in California. I was having a telephone discussion with a male attorney during which I was vigorously advocating my client's position. Mid-sentence, I was interrupted by the male attorney who said, 'I think you need to take a Midol and call me back when you feel better.' Although I was outraged at this sexist and ridiculous comment, I chose to ignore it and continued making my argument. The male attorney then hung up on me."

Linda Castro

"I worked in investment banking and was the only female in the team for awhile.

"I've been told, 'The only reason you would be in the boardroom is if you were bringing us tea.' When I said that was out of line, I was told that I couldn't take a joke. I raised this with the head of the division, and he refused to believe me.

"The same head of the division had commented when I asked about overseas transfer opportunities. I was asked: 'Why do you want to go overseas? To find a man?'

"I pushed my direct boss to do something about it and to his credit he did try. But sure enough I was ostracized for speaking up and complaining.

"What the experience tells me is that it's a top-down cultural issue. If the senior leaders are not serious about it or held accountable for it, there's no hope for the rest of the team."

Name Withheld

"I was the only female partner on a consulting team bidding for some client work. And I was the only one who had significant experience and expertise in this particular situation. And yet my input was significantly ignored. When I showed my frustration I was publicly and privately chastised, and threatened with, 'If you behave like this ... I'm not sure you should be consulting to clients.' This was 25 years into my consulting career."

Mel Lowe

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'I was told that he made more because he was the head of his household.'

Some women spoke broadly of the gender pay gap, but many shared specific stories of being paid less than a male counterpart.

"One of my most recent favorites was during an annual performance review. I was told I wasn't getting a raise (not even a cost-of-living increase), so I was a bit taken aback. My manager's response? 'It doesn't matter. Your money is just for fun, anyway.'"

Name Withheld

'I have never felt undervalued for regressive gender roles.'

While most women recalled numerous instances of sexism and gender bias in the workplace, others praised a culture of inclusivity.

"I have had very positive experiences in my workplace. That may surprise people because I am an assistant professor of theology at an evangelical Christian university in the Midwest. Christians, especially conservative evangelicals, have a reputation for regressive gender roles.

"I have never felt undervalued or had my voice stifled, even when I am the only female on a committee. My male colleagues understand (or are at least trying to understand) the importance of being advocates for full inclusion of women.

"I think the major difference in my situation is my university's theological commitment to gender equality. Sometimes we women, especially liberal activist women like me, can get so deep into the mire of sexism that we can lose sight of the fact that progress is being made, and there are places where women really do have it good."

Miranda Zapor Cruz

'I've had men ask, "Is there a man I can talk to?"'

"I work at a wastewater treatment plant, and hold a license in the field. I literally have men come into our plant, see me and ask, 'Is there a man I can talk to?' I've also been accused of 'sleeping my way into the job.' You know, because every woman dreams of sleeping her way into the sewer industry."

Kristina Gossman

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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