(By the way, I am male...)
My male boss was recently seriously berated at work for some sexist comments he had made to a female colleague of mine, which turned into quite a scandal. He was almost fired from his job, and sent on some equality training course.
Now, as part of the investigation, I was called in and interviewed by a team from human resources. I was asked to confirm or deny whether I had heard him say any of the things which he was accused of saying. There were three things, and if I remember correctly, they were: calling her "darling", telling her that she had "beautiful hair", and saying that all of the male employees "probably want to date her". The only complaints were about things he had said -- there was nothing about physical contact etc.
I told them that I hadn't heard him say any of these things, and then they moved onto asking me about sexism generally at my work. They asked me if I was aware of anything at all involving people other than this boss and this female colleague. It then dawned on me that my other boss, who is female (I kind of have two bosses), often says similar things to me. She certainly regularly calls me "darling" too, and she often comments on how she thinks I am good looking, and that I must be very popular with female employees. At a work party, she even once told me that if she wasn't married, then she would "fancy me".
I had never thought twice about these comments made to me, but seeing as I was being asked, I told all this during the interview. I then told them that I saw it as pretty much the same level of comments as have been directed to my female colleague. In return, they said that this was fine, because I hadn't previously made a complaint about it. I thought this was odd, given that these rules should probably apply regardless of whether a complaint is made.
Anyway, I then asked them what would happen, if I did make a complaint about these comments to me (just out of curiosity, I didn't actually want to make this complaint). They then told me that because it was a woman saying these things to a man, then it was "less harmful", whereas from a man these comments "come across as sleazier". They then explained that for a woman saying things to a man, the comments would have to be significantly more provocative and sexual for it to be taken seriously as a complaint, when these comments would be taken seriously if it was a man saying it to a woman. They said that comments like this from a man are usually interpreted as "oppressive and objectifying", whereas from a woman they are usually interpreted as "friendly and complementary".
This really shocked me, because it is such an obvious double standard. Everything else was equal about this -- the types of comments made to each other, and the ages of everyone (both bosses ~40, both me and my colleague ~30) -- and the only different was the gender. So my company effectively have a policy that makes it a much worse offence for a man to be sexist than for a woman to be sexist.
- Is there a way to raise the awareness of female colleagues that sexism works in both ways? Should one be calm and objective or more emotional when arguing about it?
- How to overcome the problem that it may be perceived as not so serious if female superiors make compliments to male colleagues? Just approach them directly? How does HR react, given that HR is sometimes dominantly female?
- How to react if a female colleague state that "women are better at ..." (usually claiming better social skills)?