Moneyish / Carlota Zimmerman

Serena Williams just Slammed John McEnroe for Sexism – and We All Need to Take Note

June 27, 2017

3300455252_672559d681_bThis was a grand slam of another kind.

In a recent interview, retired tennis star John McEnroe called Serena Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slams, the “best female player ever — no question,” and added that she wouldn’t fare well if she had to play against men. “If she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world,” he said.

Williams hit back, serving up two ace tweets that kindly but firmly told him he had no evidence of that statement and that she doesn’t have time for his crap. Serena 2, McEnroe 0.

Williams is far from alone in experiencing sexism in her career. In one survey, about one in three women admitted to experiencing gender bias at work — and experts say the number may be higher as sexism (against both men and women) can be hard to spot. If you find yourself a victim of sexism in the workplace like Serena was, you too can fight back like a champion.

The first thing to know, “you should never feel uncomfortable at work,” says Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim, an expert in industrial-organizational psychology and workplace issues. That means that if someone says something that is sexist and offends you, you can absolutely speak up. Address the comments “calmly and tactfully but firmly,” and try to “label the language as sexist rather than the person,” which can help diffuse the situation, says career and job search strategist Cheryl Lynch Simpson.

Hakim recommends you confront sexist comments and behavior by saying something like, “You know, you may not have meant it this way, but it made me feel uncomfortable when you said [xyz]. Please refrain from speaking to me that way.”

And sometimes, you can take a jab right back, as career strategist Carlota Zimmerman once did when she was working in TV production. “One of the male producers, inserting himself in a conversation I was having with a friend about women in comedy said to me, ‘Carlota, women aren’t funny.’ And I remember so clearly looking at him and saying, ‘And yet Craig, any woman on the receiving end of your sexual technique must have a wonderful sense of humor,'” she explains. “I think the rest of the men in the office brought me lunch since they were laughing so hard,” she says.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. But remembering this advice may give you the courage to speak up: “Are you going to irritate people? Yep. Are some people going to suggest you lean back and think of England? Yep. Should you ignore them, and do what you believe in? Damn right. Work, and life, is hard enough without having to listen to stupidity,” Zimmerman says.

There are, however, times you may want to avoid confronting the person directly, says Call to Career founder Cheryl Palmer. These include if you fear retribution like a “violent response or the loss of job,” says Simpson. What’s more, “if you are uncomfortable addressing the person directly, go to your manager or to the HR representative,” says Hakim. In addition, it may help you, if you can, to limit encounters with that person as much as possible, Simpson adds.

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