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That's Cute Sweetheart

By Dr. Claire Muselman

That’s Cute, Sweetheart: Navigating and Challenging Gender Stereotypes in the Workplace

In the evolving landscape of the modern workplace, women continue to break barriers, yet the journey is far from over. Despite the progress, women still face significant challenges, particularly in leadership roles. As of 2019, only 1% of women held CEO positions in the insurance industry, and only 8% of organizations had women’s leadership programs. This stark reality calls for a deeper look into our day-to-day interactions and how they shape the professional environment for women.

Challenging “Emotional” Labels

In my career, I have often defended my team with passion and conviction. However, this passion has sometimes been misconstrued as an emotional overreaction. During a meeting, when I was advocating for an injured worker, my male boss publicly called me out for being “emotional.” It was a crucial moment for me to stay calm and focused. The next day, I addressed this with my boss, clarifying that my approach was not emotional but passionate. This conversation helped reshape his perception and interaction with me, at least to my face.

Dealing with Age and Gender Prejudices

Another challenge I faced was the age and gender stereotypes. When I became the first female officer in an organization, I encountered surprising and inappropriate comments about my age and appearance. In these situations, it is essential to maintain professionalism, reaffirm your credentials, and redirect the conversation to your expertise and role. Shifting the conversation back to the topic at hand is effective. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Combating “Women’s Work” Stereotypes

Working on a project, a male colleague referred to some tasks as “women’s work.” It is critical to address such stereotypical remarks head-on. Asking for clarification can put the person on the spot, making them realize the inappropriateness of their comment. This approach challenges the stereotype and sets a standard for future interactions. See something, say something. Hear something, educate.

Responding to Unprofessional Comments

A remark about my appearance and age at an industry conference took me aback. In hindsight, the best response to such unprofessionalism is reintroducing yourself, maintaining your professional identity, and not allowing the conversation to devolve into personal judgments. There are times when these comments sting. You will get better and more rooted in your presence, returning with intelligent stances to defend yourself. Also, please step in to protect and support others if you ever see this happen to a fellow peer.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As women, we have the power and responsibility to support each other and share our experiences. It is not enough to acknowledge that these issues exist; we must actively work to change the narrative. Learning actionable responses and leading by example are vital in driving this change. We can be the game-changers, refusing to let outdated stereotypes and biases define our professional journeys.

Join the Movement

It is beyond time to challenge the status quo and support the growth and development of women in all industries. By sharing our stories and strategies, we can empower each other to rise to the occasion and create a more inclusive and respectful professional environment. The time is now. Start today. Join us in this vital movement for change.

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