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Interrupt “Benevolent” Sexism on Your Team

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As a leader, you have a responsibility to address “benevolent” sexism: attitudes, practices, and actions that seem positive but undermine supporting women at work, often under the pretence of helping, protecting, or complimenting them. (For example, not offering a high-visibility project to a woman because she has young children.) To interrupt benevolent sexism, start by increasing your awareness. Reflect on how ideas such as “men are responsible for protecting women” or “men and women are different and complementary” can actually be harmful. Check your assumptions about how people should or shouldn’t act based on their gender. Then, if you hear others making benevolently sexist comments, challenge them. For example, if a colleague wants to “save” a woman from a complex project, help them zoom out by asking: “What are the consequences of not involving her in this project? Wouldn’t it be better to ask her directly instead of assuming she won’t want it?” Finally, model equitable behaviour by focusing on women’s competencies. Give feedback related to work results, instead of characteristics stereo typically associated with women, such as warmth or likeability.

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