Picture this: you’re an established creative director at your corporate job, running a monthly meeting regarding creative wins, losses, and forecasts. Everything’s going smoothly, until your male-identifying coworker blatantly interrupts you to condescendingly explain something that he truly believes he knows more about (you’ve explained it better on the next slide, by the way). Not wanting to be rude or aggressive because performance reviews are coming up, you let him take over the discussion… and your meeting.
You’re frustrated, you’ve witnessed this guy on countless occasions disregard women’s ideas & solutions, and all you feel like you can do is bite your tongue and smile through it.
Before we get into what to do when you find yourself being mansplained to, let’s look at the definition of mansplaining—just to make sure we’re all on the same page.
From Merriam Webster: Mansplaining; noun. “When a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he's talking to does."
I will say this: not every man that mansplains does it on purpose—there may be factors of unconscious bias and/or ignorance at play. Mansplaining is a cultural issue, especially in the professional environment, and it is an issue that should be addressed… which is why we’re here.
As women, we’ve got to know when to stand up for ourselves. And then we have to do it unwaveringly.
This one can be scary, but it gets easier with practice. We must habitualize calling out the offense when it occurs. It shouldn’t be particularly aggressive, but it must sound confident. If you don’t feel confident, this is a great example of how faking it ‘til you make it really does work. Fake the confidence, if you have to, and it will soon become second nature.
Calling an instance of mansplaining out right when it happens, allows the person to recognize the wrong-doing, and gives him a chance to be better in the future. It’s a chance at better self-awareness. Handling it with confidence establishes a boundary—you respect yourself and you demand respect from your co-workers. Remember earlier when we described your fear of sticking up for yourself because what if it affects your track to a promotion? If you’re at a company that is run well, this assurance will actually help your cause when it comes time for performance reviews. And if it doesn’t—it might be time to consider other places of employment.
In moments like these, it’s okay to lean on humor.
Especially if you’re in the “fake it til you make it” stage of sticking up for yourself at work, a little bit of humor might help as you build up your confidence. Humor also tends to help the other person feel less defensive. Feel free to use the term “mansplaining,” as its novelty still does carry with it some lightheartedness. “Johnny, you’re mansplaining.” That’s all you need to get the ball rolling. Feel free to sprinkle some, “What you’re saying—and more, by the way, because I did prepare for my own presentation—can be found on my next slide.” If Johnny still can’t grasp the concept, of course it’s important to follow with a separate meeting between the two of you, or even with the aid of Human Resources.
Unfortunately, we still need to teach others how to treat us.
We—and I’m talking about women—have worked hard for our dignity and respect in the workplace. Equality has been hard to come by, and we still have a long way to go. It is unfortunately up to us to set the precedent; by way of establishing boundaries, speaking up for ourselves and each other, and calling out bad behavior that happens in front of us.
Two important workplace initiatives working against things like mansplaining are bias training programs & proper managerial training for all of leadership. The latter must be taken seriously in order to ensure that leaders are taught to project equality and know how to handle anything less. Bias training programs should have an all-encompassing approach and include not only unconscious bias but self-awareness & diversity as well. Together these programs can help educate employees in hopes of eliminating such behaviors.