Tackling Sexism in the Workplace with Amy Guth

In celebration of a great Women’s History Month here on Punk Rock HR and everywhere else, I’m super excited to bring you another bonus episode to close out the month of March. Believe me, you don’t want to miss this one.

My guest is Amy Guth, a Chicago-based writer, speaker, journalist, author and all-around badass. She has an incredible perspective on the world of work for women today and isn’t afraid to give it to you straight. There’s still a lot that we need to accomplish in terms of how we treat women, the systemic issues at play and what we can do about it going forward. And I believe Amy can get us there.

Sit back and enjoy my conversation with Amy as she breaks down topics such as overcoming fear and the importance of semantics as they pertain to the presence of sexism in the workplace.

Destroying Internalized Narratives

From never-ending microaggressions to overbearing co-workers who insist on mansplaining through obstacles rather than offering collaboration, the workplace environment can understandably demotivate a lot of women from being assertive about what they need.

Amy has a keen eye for identifying a lot of internalized narratives that women have about their work roles as a result of this. One of those is the idea that they’re unable to step up and negotiate their positions. “I am here to tell you that if you have ever walked down the street at night and thought about what I will do if X happens, don’t tell me you don’t know how to negotiate,” she says. “If you have ever gotten a picky toddler to eat, you know how to negotiate. So this idea that we don’t know how to negotiate is absolute horseshit. What it is, I believe, is that we are quite good at reading the room and knowing the consequences facing us.”

Fear of those consequences can make us feel immobilized even when we know that we need to speak up. According to Amy, however, as long as we hold onto those ideas and believe them to be true, we’ll never break free.

She tells a great story about the advice she received from an old supervisor who taught her to deal with the condescending male co-worker by walking right up to his desk and addressing the issue head-on. “I think there’s a lot of power in just walking through the door of fear because, once you’ve walked through it, the door falls apart,” Amy says. “Once you’ve done that one terrifying thing, you are no longer afraid of that thing, and you’ve grown.”

The Power of Semantics

Another thing that Amy loves to identify and call out is the role that semantics play in systemic issues that women face with sexism in the workplace. The language we use matters a great deal in how ideas in the workplace are conveyed. Even well-intentioned nods toward fighting sexism can still be problematic if there is a subtext that hints at power imbalance.

Amy recalls a time at a conference when a male audience member described what he does in meetings where a male colleague, “Brad,” tends to talk over a female colleague, “Mandy.” The audience member said he will chime in and say, “Hey Brad, let her talk.” Amy described how she replied to this story. “OK, well, that’s cool that you do that, and that you recognize Brad’s being terrible in that moment. But let’s talk about the word ‘let.’ The word ‘let’ implies it is your power to bestow, and not that Mandy has the same authority in that room as you or Brad.”

Another example she gives is overhearing men calling out sexism in the workplace not by telling another male colleague why they are wrong in perpetuating such ideas but instead saying it in the just-be-cool sense. “It wasn’t, ‘Hey so-and-so, you said something inappropriate.’ It was, ‘Hey, listen, Janet over there is kind of touchy about the thing you said, can you just steer clear from her?’” Amy says. The semantic distinctions in the language used are key, and it’s impossible to eradicate sexism by using avoidant language rather than facing the issue directly.

I highly recommend following Amy for more no-BS analysis about these issues and what we can do to fix them.

People in This Episode