Q: A person in authority in my organization has a persistent habit of making sexist and demeaning comments. As a white man at my company, I feel it’s right to stand up against injustices like this, but it’s coming with some negative consequences from both him (not surprisingly) and my colleagues, who seem to like and admire him. How can I do the right thing? —Cal, 30, sales manager
A: Think of the people who are afraid to speak up and are appreciating all you do; use that to help you stay the course.
At the same time, your primary anchor needs to be your inner values. Reflect deeply on this, thinking about his behavior and the impact it has. Moving past the superficial, consider why it matters to you. I would challenge you to think, “Who am I if I’m not bothered?” and then confront whether you really have a choice. If you stay silent, what does it say about you as a person?
This deep commitment will also help you endure any discomfort that you experience as a result of your stand. Ideally, if you are tempted to do less for others out of inconvenience to yourself, your inner voice will also reassure and provide support.
I also think that, from the way you have phrased your question, you know that you have some protection and privilege that comes just from being white and male. This is useful awareness on your part, and also comes with responsibility, knowing that you are less likely to experience economic or legal repercussions for taking a stand, and if you do, you will have an easier time recovering from it.
Now cast an eye on the outward actions you have taken so far. The most obvious steps are to react in the moment, challenging a comment, for example. This is useful and important, and certainly requires courage. It sends a message to others that not everyone feels the way he does. You are also experiencing the lightning-rod effect it can have.
It’s not the only type of action. Consider steps at a more structural level. For example, have you brought this to the HR department, perhaps lodging formal complaints about the behavior?
Have your evidence in order. Take contemporaneous notes, or even video comments if that’s a reasonable option. Also seek out other people who witnessed the incidents who will corroborate your story.
None of this discounts that it’s no fun to be a pariah at work. People like this guy can sometimes be charismatic and draw a following.
Take steps to maintain your own equilibrium. Avoid ruminating and getting caught in the drama. Tend to your well-being through activities you enjoy and being with people who give you positive energy. Exercise, eat well and get enough sleep — the usual steps to sustain yourself.
And, again, remember that there are a lot of people out there who have been harmed by these types of behaviors, myself included. On behalf of all, I thank you and count on you to stay the course.