This is How You Treat Women Professionally

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By Hannah O. Brown

It’s happened to all of us. You are at work, in the grind, trying to get through the day, when a co-worker says or does something that makes you yell, “Hold me back!” to whomever is in close proximity.

There is a delicate balance between being considered a “good worker” and standing up for yourself professionally. As women, we often make a choice between being labeled as a bitch or maintaining our dignity. So I’m going to do a favor for all of those men and women who have knowingly or unknowingly disrespected women in the workplace. Here is a simple list of how you should treat women professionally. You’re welcome.

1. Don’t call me “sweetie.”

It doesn’t matter if you are older than me or if, to you, it doesn’t seem demeaning. If you are not my boyfriend, my family or my close friend, do not call me by a pet name. If you are trying to be friendly, there are other, less condescending ways to achieve the same end. You could ask me how my day is going, for example… You know, normal adult-to-adult conversation.

2. I’m not interested in your opinion on my appearance.

Oh, do I look like I have lost weight? Great. Glad you are keeping tabs. Commenting on the appearance of the women around you tells them one thing: you are judging how they present themselves, and that is enough to send anyone into a self-critical tailspin. I am not looking for health advice or fashion tips while I am on the job. Honestly, you are lucky I put on pants.

3. Don’t interrupt me.

This is my biggest pet peeve on the list, and that may be because it happens so frequently. How often have you been trying to add to a discussion when a co-worker decides their input is more pressing than yours? Oh, every day? Yeah, me, too. We have all been in meetings where folks are crouched forward, just waiting to interject. While this is offensive, it’s also just not very productive. Which brings me to my next point…

4. Listen and leave space for me to speak.

For some reason, listening has become a chore for many people. I emphasize this as a separate point, because it is an act all in it’s self. It’s one thing to hold back from speaking, and it’s another to actually pay attention and absorb what someone else is saying. I notice that women sometimes have a hard time speaking up in a room full of verbose men. So I ask you, men, be mindful of this and make room for the women. Hell, why not even ask them what they think!

5. Shake my MF hand.

Shaking hands is not an inherently male activity. You don’t need to think too hard about whether to shake my hand or not. Just go for it. And don’t go soft on me either. A limp, soft handshake is almost worse than no handshake at all. And another thing, I don’t want a hug from you just because I am a woman. Let’s keep it professional, folks.

6. Don’t pretend like my idea was yours.

In my experience, women are just as guilty as men of this in the workplace. You express an idea in a nonchalant way, and a few seconds later someone else is chiming in with the same idea, only louder and more insistent. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but come on now, give credit where credit is due. At the root of this is the tendency to be competitive. That person wants to get the brownie points. Maybe they don’t even realize what they are doing. Well, that’s fine, but I’m saying to you now, stop and think before you claim my ideas. Otherwise, I’m going to have a hard time trusting you.

7. Value my input.

I recognize and respect the value of collaboration, but you don’t need a man to verify every thing I say. My input should be enough. If you need to discuss the issue further or aren’t quite confident about my suggestion, that’s fine. Let’s discuss it.  But please don’t turn to the man next to you to see if he thinks my idea is worth considering.

8. Help with the office party.

It’s Christmas or Easter or somebody’s birthday, and the office has decided to throw a party. Awesome. We all love an excuse to eat cake. How about we all join in on the arrangements? I have heard the same story from many female friends. The men step back silently to the corners of the room and watch as the women set up, cook, clean, etc. These are not complex skills, folks. You, too, can open a pack of napkins or sop up soda off a table. Lend a hand so the party can be a fun time for everyone.

Most of us are probably guilty of at least one of these infractions, and that’s okay, it’s definitely contextual. Maybe you have a good friend in the office who is down for a hug or who enjoys talking with you about daily workouts. That’s all totally reasonable. The important thing is to not assume that any of these behaviors are okay without getting the go-ahead from your co-worker.

Ladies, if these behaviors sound familiar to you, and you’ve had enough, try some of these strategies on how to stand up to a rude office mate.


Hannah Hannah O. Brown is co-editor of The Renaissance Woman. She is also a doctoral student in interdisciplinary ecology at the University of Florida. Hannah has a master’s in mass communications from UF as well, and has worked as a professional journalist for the past eight years. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_0_brown, or check out her website