So You Are Sexist, Now What?

How to deal with the fallout of being accused of discrimination


There is growing impatience with discriminatory behaviour — and that is awesome! Sadly, most of the current reactions to accusations have done nothing more than fan the flames of discrimination.

If you are somebody who has been accused of discrimination, here are some things you could do that might help you understand and advance the conversation around discrimination.

Accept it

If you have been accused of discrimination, consider that to be the fact instead of trying to refute it. It is immaterial if it is just one person or a few hundred.

Apologise immediately and unreservedly

Somebody felt threatened by your behaviour, and you need to make the threat go away — immediately. You need to make it safe for the victim as soon as possible.

Consider this ultra simplistic trivializing metaphor: Imagine if somebody points a loaded gun at you. It makes you uncomfortable and you tell the person to stop pointing the gun. If that person replies with “No, this is not a gun. I am not holding a gun” (or “it is just a joke” or “this is how we talk to each other. Deal with it”) — that does not make you comfortable. If that person replies with “I am really sorry for pointing this gun at you” and points the gun away, it likely would be more comforting.

As a person who engaged in discrimination, you are that person pointing the gun at your victim.

Do not refute the fact

If someone — who has culturally/historically been discriminated against — claims you are being discriminatory, accept it. Something in your manner or behaviour has made them feel discriminated against.

Maybe it was not that discriminatory in your view. But why be discriminatory to begin with? Your behaviour could have been that last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Do not claim you are not discriminatory because you have relatives who are not part of the majority

As an individual, do not claim your wife considers you not sexist, or your best friend is black. As an organization, do not claim you have minority employees or attendees at your events and hence you could not possibly have engaged in discriminatory behaviour.

Do not even claim you are not “normally” discriminatory. It does not matter if you have been a good citizen in the past. What matters is how you deal with the current circumstances.

Do not blame victims or people siding with the victims for calling you discriminatory

The responsibility for not being discriminatory lies with you. Nobody else. Not the “mob,” or your employers or the victim.

Reflect on the circumstances/actions that perpetuated it

What were you doing or being that made you react in a manner that was discriminatory? What were you thinking? What could have prevented the behaviour that was found discriminatory?

As an organization, what are the set of actions that resulted in an action that was considered discriminatory? What could have prevented them?

What would you do to stop being discriminatory?

Use the reflections to construct actions you would take to ensure you won’t place someone else in the same situation again. Publicly encourage people you work with to call you out on this actively. Surround yourself with folks who are not known to be discriminatory.

If you are an event organizer and have a Code of Conduct, but you have been found to violate it, consider having a statement ahead of time on what you would do if you have been found in violation of the CoC. You need to have incentives to follow your own Code of Conduct and be vested in making sure you stick to it.

Publish what these next steps and actions will be.

Help the victims or volunteer to help in organizations who help people like them

If you are in a position to make amends in some manner, do it. If you are able to volunteer in an organization that helps minorities, do. If you cannot, donate money to such organizations.

As an organization, work towards increasing diversity in your workforce. If you are an event organizer, offer sponsorships to minorities to attend your events (consider doing this anyway). Show you are inclusive in your selection of speakers.

Do not engage in discriminatory behaviour

Individuals and organizations have been found to repeatedly engage in such behaviour and pretend to apologise sincerely.

Create incentives for you to not engage in such behaviour.

Help others not engage in discriminatory behaviour

It will be an ongoing process. Call out when others engage in such behaviour. Be vulnerable to be called out when you do.

None of these actions work on their own nor are they sufficient or complete in themselves. Being more inclusive and less discriminatory is an ongoing process we all need to work on actively. You can lead the way.

P.S. Some of these actions were taken by Techweek Chicago after being called out for sexist email ad for a party.


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