Stand up, say something, but what and how?!

MLK quote


I do not claim to understand the entire context or meaning of this quote, but here is what I take it to signify: When you witness injustice, you do harm by not saying anything.

My friends and I have been talking about this a lot. There are situations at work when people say mildly (or even acutely) offensive things, ranging from “hi, girls!” (to a group of female faculty members or staff) to stronger displays of who is in power, who is allowed to speak, and who is too low on the hierarchy to be right.

We all recognize that when things like this happens, it is wrong to let them go. We should say something. We should speak up, cry foul, use the opportunity to educate and raise awareness of how to communicate in an inclusive workplace.

But how do you do this when the people you are talking to are your colleagues (which translates to superiors, if you are not tenured), and when you are a woman, and this means you risk being labeled as “bitchy” as soon as you say something that’s perceived as unpleasant.

I’ve read a blog post from a woman in a tech company that recommended replying like a man would do, humorously, with something along the lines of: “dude, not cool.” I don’t think that would work in academia.

I know from research in communication that the solution is to provide training to recognize these situations and to teach people specific lines they can use when they are flustered and shocked and can’t think of anything to say. I wish I could post here a collection of such lines, but I do not know of any.

Do you have links to any resources that can help, or any experiences we can learn from?

6 thoughts on “Stand up, say something, but what and how?!”

  1. Like Claudine, I might say, “Hi, girls!” However, in addressing anyone regardless of age, gender or perhaps race, one must remember the power of words. Words can speak life or death to a person. In fact, as one knows a small spark can set a forest aflame. Herein, among other communication techniques one must consider his or her tone, the context of the situation and not forget the individual’s personality. What one person may consider light or joking another person may take as demeaning. Thus, strategic communication should definitely be considered. At times, I feel political correctness has gone over the top, nevertheless, it must be considered as it has become a reality. Even so, one must not lose sight of fun and fluid conversation. Most importantly, we must remember the Golden Rule and treat people with the utmost respect despite our differences.

  2. I think you’re dead-on about the “dude, not cool” comment not working in academia. I think part of the difficulty is that I, for example, feel comfortable saying “not cool” to some faculty (usually in other departments), but the real challenge is in finding a concise way of expressing that to the folks who have to nominate us for awards, vote on our P&T, and support (or diminish) our research and advancement opportunities. When you rely on such a large group of people for your future advancement & job security, keeping all sides relatively at peace with you while maintaining your individual dignity and professional responsibility leaves me…stuck.
    Maybe the blogger who writes FemaleScienceProfessor has some good ideas?

Comments are closed.