I belong to a team of engineers and I have been often hearing sexist, racist, homophobic and transmisogynist jokes from some of them.

At first they have been telling it to themselves, which I don't mind as long as they're far away from my hearing but lately they have been doing this during our team meetings and gatherings.

As an LGTBQIA+ member, I have always been frustrated and uncomfortable whenever I attend team meetings with them because the jokes will always be there which causes me to do my best to spend less time with them. It does not actually interfere with my individual work but the thought of hearing them spewing offensive and tasteless jokes hinders me from being in a room with them interacting.

This has been bothering me for months now. Should approach my scrum master or manager about this issue?

  • 9
    Does your company have any kind of employee handbook or guidelines against discriminatory behaviour/harassment? Because those kinds of jokes could well fall within those guidelines. And they shouldn't be making those kinds of comments regardless of whether a QUILTBAG+ is nearby or not. I'll bet there are more people around who also don't like it, but who also feel uncomfortable speaking out.
    – Jenny D
    Jan 7, 2015 at 14:32
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    No, you are not selfish to want to be able to feel comfortable and safe at work.
    – Kai
    Jan 7, 2015 at 16:42
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    Just for clarification, can you define "sexist, racist, homophobic and transmisogynist jokes". Is their behaviour something that a ["reasonable person" ](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reasonable_person) would find offensive, or is this an issue of sensitivity on your behalf?
    – user9158
    Jan 8, 2015 at 5:24
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    I'm not trying to be bold but, in the USA if you tell a joke around a co-worker and they take offense, it's considered verbal harassment. It's also sexual harassment if the joke has sexual content. Jan 9, 2015 at 5:22
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    @ChrisLively, To be clear, the laws governing harassment are fairly strict. However what's decided in court is another matter. All the harassment training I've attended has been very consistent; jokes where offense is taken is harassment. I've done training with the DOE, a Fortune 500, an HRO, and one-on-one training from a contracting group -- all specifically on harassment. Jan 9, 2015 at 23:02

6 Answers 6


The steps in a case like this are generally:

First directly ask the individuals to stop the behavior. Since they do it in meetings, I would ask them right then. The next time they make one of these jokes, say, "That makes me uncomfortable and it is offensive to me. Please stop making these kinds of jokes." Document the dates and times when you tell these individuals this and who you told.

The next step if they don't stop is to go to management (not the SCRUM Master but whoever is the actual official supervisor of these people) and tell him or her that you are uncomfortable with the behavior, that you have asked them to stop and they did not. (Don't be surprised if they actually escalate the behavior.) If the manager is supportive, give him a chance to fix the behavior. Document the date of the meeting and what you asked for, what the supervisor said and what actions if any he said he would take.

If the manager is not supportive or the issue is not fixed within a couple of weeks, go to HR and tell them that you are in a hostile work environment and name the names of the people who engage in the behavior and and show them your documentation of how you have tried to handle it.

If no one in management or HR is willing to put a stop to this behavior, it is time for you to move on to a less hostile environment. So then I personally would start looking for another job. Be sure to tell them that is why you left when you put in your notice.

  • 19
    It's offensive to straight people too, so you should be able to complain without outing yourself, although that is still a danger. Jan 7, 2015 at 16:51
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    I'd replace "Please stop making these kind of jokes" with "Stop trying to make jokes, it's not funny". If you offend someone it's not a joke.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 31, 2020 at 19:20

I assume that they are going to hire more individuals of the wrong race, gender or sexual orientation going forward. Bigotry is ignorant and stupid, and your management probably doesn't want to provide a business environment where open, public displays of ignorance and stupidity are tolerated. Because like it or not, tolerance amounts to acceptance - that the acceptance in question is passive doesn't matter, and acceptance amounts to legitimization. And what if some of those who are spreading these jokes are making their way into management without ever been told that their behavior is wrong? The promotion of this hostile environment is going to do nothing to help retain staff, especially since you never know who is married to whom and who has friends and family members - including blended families -in these categories.

If you work here, then you have the right to say that you are offended - much more right to say that you are offended than they have right to offend. In fact, they have no right to offend and neither do you. Again, I hate the word "approach" - just go to your Scrum Manager and tell your Scrum Manager, and tell your Scrum Manager what it is about this joking that's offensive to you. And be done with your telling the Scrum Manager.

I personally am in none of the categories that the jokes are about, unless the jokes are also about Asians, which is very unlikely. Nevertheless, I believe that people should be treated with respect and fairness and I would have been offended if I heard such jokes. So those who are spreading these jokes would be offending a lot more people than they think they do.

  • 7
    The hostile environment, to the point where one avoids sharing a room with the others, may also hinder information sharing among the team and general effectiveness when you're working together. If nothing else, that should be something that the Scrum Master/Manager cares about.
    – Hazel
    Jan 7, 2015 at 12:20

You could try a direct approach, but that depends on the likely reaction of those involved, maybe they don't realise their behaviour is unacceptable, and a simple request may change things.

If you aren't happy doing that, or fearful of the result, there are two ways to approach this depending on how you actually feel and want:

  • If you only want the team to stop the jokes in scrum ceremonies (standup, retrospectives etc) approach the scrum master, it is their job to keep ceremonies on track and focused, and you can argue these jokes are distracting that without getting into a discussion about whether certain jokes are acceptable.
  • If you want it to stop generally, you need to escalate it up the chain of command. Even if it is only you who is offended, that is still unacceptable, and you need some support from authority.
  • 4
    I don't agree with the second statement. The OP must first try to solve the issue by approaching each and every offending team member, politely and determinate. Maybe repeated times, because sometimes one might forget. If the OP sees no result at all, or a pejorative result, then it's time to call management. Jan 7, 2015 at 16:07
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    @djechelon You prefer the approach that takes forever for whatever reason. Once I decide that it needs to get done, it gets done. And I don't care who gets squirms and who squeals and whose feelings get bruised. It has to be done, and there is no need for me to be nice and sweet about it. So right up to the management the complaint goes. Jan 7, 2015 at 16:22
  • Surely if you can't handle that properly, it will take forever. But in my environment, bypassing direct talking for escalation is considered a bad practice by management itself. I simply don't agree that one, fearful of the result, won't even try a direct approach and opt for an escalation. It's unfair to me. I do believe @HLGEM's answer is great ("first direct ask the individuals...") Jan 7, 2015 at 16:46
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    In my environment and I'd say in most corporate environments around NYC, escalation gets results. Fast. In New York State, employers are required BY LAW to provide a non-hostile environment. It is not the job of any one employee to provide a non-hostile work environment, it is clearly the responsibility of the management. Your management is punting. Since I have the law on my side, I have even less reason to spend my working hours hashing stuff with the culprits thenjemploymentlawfirm.com/… Jan 7, 2015 at 18:46
  • It is not absolutely necessary to address the people concerned yourself. You can go straight to HR. However if you do, the first thing HR will do will be to ask them to stop. That's a necessary step for HR, because they can't discipline people for doing something they haven't been told is wrong (even if they should realize it is wrong). So the amount of delay is going to be about the same. Jan 31, 2020 at 18:48

It is very important, at least at first, not to set up a situation where you are seen to be in opposition to the rest of the team. You will have more success if they see you as one of the gang. It is human nature to be more easily persuaded by appeals from within the tribe than from without.

When I encountered a team like the one you describe, I sent a message to the whole team, including the manager, briefly explaining why some occasional behaviour by the team was unwise and that people should be more careful. I pointed out that it would be better to change behaviour before a new and less forgiving team member took offense and created a lot of grief for everybody. I received no reply and nobody ever discussed it with me, but the sexist comments stopped.

Ideally, people would be nice because they see the value of being nice, not fearful of consequences, and I would rather have appealed to their better natures. For this reason, the above approach may be considered passive-aggressive or cowardly by some who think such behaviour should be countered head-on. To be clear, I am not suggesting you should pretend you are not offended by their comments - there is no need to compromise your integrity - only that you do not make your personal feelings the main issue. Diplomacy first.

Of course, if that doesn't work then kick up a massive stink. Fight the good fight, for there is honour and much fun to be had. But be prepared for the bigots not to like you.

  • 3
    Like it's an awful tragedy if bigots don't like you :) Jan 10, 2015 at 18:47
  • @mikeagg I think this should have be upvoted more
    – shabunc
    Jan 31, 2020 at 17:35

In some cities/states, sexual orientation is a protected class like race or gender. In such a place, this is clearly a "hostile work environment". I would first ask the people to stop. If they don't, then start a diary with names and dates. Keep this diary at home, or in your purse/murse/briefcase.

Read Corporate Confidential at home before approaching your boss or HR. HR does not work for you, their job is to protect the company.

In the past, when I've been around such coworkers, I take 2 different tactics. One tactic (shame) is to turn it around by saying things like "really? You wouldn't say that about a black person would you? Or are you that bigoted?" Another (taking the bite out of the remarks) is to camp it up and set the dial to 11. Such as telling a man who is saying a homophobic remark something like "oh hun, you just haven't met the right man yet." It takes time to determine what works better for each person.


Always assume best in people before moving forward with any hard countermeasures you can think of. Even if people look - and in some cases even behave - like total douchebags, try to negotiate and discuss what's important to you and try to make them compassionate to your issues.

Something like:

Guys, you know what, any one - literally any one - has some topics they are not ready to joke about with their co-workers. The issue is what is the exact domain of forbidden jokes. For someone it's races and sexual orientation, someone won't find it cool to joke about abortions, somebody will be triggered by religious jokes. Since it's very difficult to draw the line and come to a common denominator - may be, instead of trying to negotiate what we can joke about and what we can not joke about - may be let's just be professionals and don't even bring any topics like this to the job, to our SCRUM meetings etc.

One very important thing I've learnt that following is crucial to me (it's only my personal experience however - it's not necessarily a universal thing) - I just don't want to work with people who act this way or another because of a fear. If you'll escalate this to HR and they will shut up only because they are afraid to lose job - you still find yourself in a very uncomfortable position.

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