THE BLOG
09/24/2014 06:52 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

What We're Not Talking About

Less than a year out of college, I experienced my first blatant gender biased issue in the workplace. I was 23 and thought that things like gender biases were a thing of the past. As a fully qualified engineer, my top tasks were "set up a meeting," "order lunch/cookies/coffee," and "remind people to give you slides." I thought I was just paying my dues, but a conversation with my manager exposed that he did not have plans to give me engineering tasks and that he was going to let the "big boys" handle being engineers. My hopes for an engineering career were quickly fading, and I needed to do something about it.

I came to the decision that I would not give my talents to a group that refused to appreciate me because of my gender. When I reached out to my friends for advice, I told them the ugly truth of the situation. Many of these strong women I graduated with didn't believe me. As much as their doubt hurt, I kept talking. I needed to process what was happening and I needed someone to know that these issues do happen today.

What cut into my soul was that I have spent the past six years answering the phone to peers who call me in a crisis with similar workplace gender biased issues. Along with surprise that "this behavior still exists" they feel stranded on an island with 1950s sexists' behavior. People who I haven't talked to in years have reached out to me because they knew my story. In their minds, we are the only two people in America that have been denied recognition for our intellectual abilities because of our gender. This is not true, but how would we know -- no one is talking about it.

So why aren't we talking about workplace gender bias to college students? It is real, it does happen, and chances are if you're in a male dominated field, you'll face gender bias at some point. Worse, you probably won't be prepared for it. You may find yourself crippled by shock.

The method I start people with is to come up with a catch phrase that is natural to them to directly tell an offender the behavior/action is inappropriate. My personal favorite is "not cool" and "that is not appreciated." Some have even gone the Stephanie Tanner (Full House) route and proclaimed "how rude." I encourage people to keep the phrase short and to write this catch phrase at the top of their notebook or on a sticky note so that in the heat of the moment all they have to do is read.

The sad thing is that most offenders don't even realize their transgressions, until someone calls him/her out on it. Your ability to call someone out on offensive behavior shifts the power the offender is trying to obtain from him/her to you.

Fast forward a few years from the scared and hurt 23-year-old that I was, and you found me, the only woman in a room of men of an older generation than myself, making decisions. One of them says, "Well lady, you just twirl your hair and we'll make the decisions." Because I am prepared, my self-confidence shined through and I simply said "not cool." I had just swiftly disarmed him of the power he was trying to obtain by cutting me down. After the meeting he asked to speak with me. He apologized, and I had the chance to explain to him that I do not welcome microagressions.

Prepare yourself with a catch phrase. Challenge inappropriate behavior. And finally, talk about it. Hiding these issues inside ourselves benefits no one.