Hard choice looms over office sexism
I work in a male-dominant environment. My male colleagues use subtle jokes and innuendos, referring to clients in gender-based derogatory terms. It sometimes seems like they forget I’m there. They act worse out of the office at business lunches and dinners. And when I told them kindly that I didn’t like it, they thought I was joking. So I told them seriously – dead silence and isolation followed. I don’t want to come across as an aggressive, easily offended feminist, but talking to my boss and HR is not an option. How do I get along with them in a nice but assertive way?
Unfortunately, this remains an issue in offices around Hong Kong. However, evolving social attitudes alongside a more stringent HR regulatory environment have made significant improvements, and even “subtle innuendos” are unaccept8able in a modern workplace.
Your question highlights the overlapping of Hong Kong’s work and social spheres, which makes the city such a vibrant place to live and work in, but can sometimes exacerbate the situation. It can be easily forgotten that the informality of business dinners does not mean that comments and attitudes are not relevant in the office the next morning.
You certainly did the right thing by addressing the situation directly. Social attitudes are evolving, but although no excuse, people can be unaware they are being derogatory.
This should have elicited a sincere apology and resulted in a more positive workplace. That your situation has not improved indicates there could be a problem with the culture at your firm.
Why do you feel that speaking with management or HR is not an option, having already raised the issue with your colleagues and received a negative response?
Raising your concerns to the relevant people is the logical next step. This would then give your firm the opportunity to articulate the seriousness of the situation. This could be done indirectly in the form of educational seminars or simply as a direct conversation.
Firms have a duty of care (and a financial incentive) to provide a supportive work environment and failing to address what could be described as gender-based bullying could have legal ramifications.
The main challenge is that these are all difficult conversations to have. All too often, the solution is to simply find a new job, which is completely understandable.
The importance of references and the desire to avoid being labelled a trouble maker make it a very tricky situation. Unfortunately, the difficult conversations are the best course of action