How to Call Out Men’s Behavior When It’s Holding Women Back

male female executive laptop glass wall
Teresa Freeborn Photo
Executive, Author, Speaker, and Co-founder of Fashion Brand
Smash + Tess

6 minutes

Six things to watch out for … and what to do about them

CUES’ Advancing Women publication is a fantastic place for women to share their stories and their life experiences. What I have to say about the various ways we women are held back from corporate C-suites and board rooms will probably not come as a surprise to those of you reading this, but I’m hoping what I have to say will empower you to call out this behavior more often than you might already do. 

If we don’t hold men’s feet to the fire, it’s highly unlikely they’ll do it themselves. That is why I have written a book that speaks directly to men in positions of corporate power. It’s called Suits and Skirts: Game On! The Battle for Corporate Power. 

I’ve been in the financial world for 40-plus years, and I decided to spend some time after semi-retiring to clearly and distinctly spell out why women are held back from leadership roles, as well as pinpointing the many solutions these men need to follow to even the playing field in corporate America. I didn’t hold back—and I hope you won’t either after reading the following.

One last thing before I get into this: Calling men out on their behavior that hinders us from advancement does not necessarily mean causing a scene at a staff meeting. Pulling the offender aside afterwards and firmly explaining why that behavior isn’t helpful may get them to become an ally easier than blasting them with bazookas. That being said, don’t be afraid of taking your concern to someone higher-up in the food chain, if you feel that you are getting brushed aside. Remember: It is never OK to be ignored, marginalized in meetings, passed over for promotions, treated like a servant or not given credit for your ideas.

6 Things to Watch Out For … and What to Do About Them

Here are just a few things to keep an eye out for when dealing with men in positions of power:

1. If they don’t ask you how they can help you achieve your goals, arrange a meeting with whomever has the power to help you. It seems simple, but sometimes we are too busy with home/work life balance issues to set time aside to ask for what we deserve. Going into this meeting, have your bullet points ready, and be ready to be upfront about your needs and goals. Afterwards, send that person a summary of the issues you discussed, and what they have agreed to do. This holds them accountable for their future actions.

2. Discuss a training program or mentorship program with HR. That is what HR is there for. Be proactive. Just make sure that it’s not a “one-and-done” type of program. This needs to be ongoing, with built-in milestones that can identify the success/failure of the program. 

3. Don’t be bullied in meetings. Listen, we women oftentimes speak softly, but we can carry a big stick. We see things differently than our male counterparts—and that’s a great thing! Remember that we have great ideas that contribute to the success of our companies. Speak up and don’t let anyone take credit for your idea. A simple, “Bob, if you’re done speaking, I have something to contribute,” can be a powerful thing. Or, “Bob, that is the exact idea I just presented a few minutes ago. Thank you for realizing its potential,” can stop an idea-stealer in his tracks.

4. Invite yourself to a “boys only” occasion. I know, who has the time? But it is during golfing events, drinks after work, going to a football game or just a backyard barbeque that a lot of information gets disseminated between guys—and information is power. Listen, guys are bigger gossips than any woman could ever be. They know who’s leaving the company, what everyone’s salaries are, upcoming projects in the works, etc. Get the inside track on what’s happening, and that will absolutely help you move ahead. It sounds crazy, but it’s really true.

5. Celebrate your success and other women’s successes—loudly and proudly. This one might be a bit difficult for some women, but if your superiors don’t acknowledge a successful product launch that you spearheaded, or how you landed a primo client, it is time to toot your own horn. There is nothing wrong with sending out a department-wide email that says something like, “I’m incredibly excited that the launch I was asked to lead has been so successful. I’d like to thank [supervisor’s name] for trusting me with this launch, and I’d also like to thank [name names] who were invaluable in their participation leading to this success.” I know. Sounds like an Oscar speech, but it really keeps you on the higher-up’s radar. You can also do this verbally at the beginning or the end of a staff meeting. Men don’t feel weird about tooting their own horn, embrace your successes and don’t be afraid of letting everyone know it.

6. Push for better policies that will help you and other women move into higher positions of leadership. As you know, many women work at least two full-time jobs: The one that pays and the other that does not. Being a working mother is tough. After a very long day at the office, working mothers still make dinner, do laundry, bake cookies at the last minute, go grocery shopping and a thousand other tasks that keep their children alive—with little to no help from their spouse, if they happen to have one. Pushing for specific policies that can make your life better (and improve the lives of the women around you!), is vital to level the playing field with the men you work with who don’t have all these extra responsibilities to deal with every day. Push for flex time, push for modified telecommuting, push for in-house day care, whatever will help take that added pressure off will allow you to shine even brighter at the office.

I’m sure we are all very clear about the #MeToo issues at work, but, as a reminder: You are not “sweetie-honey-darling-sweetheart-babe,” you have a name. They need to use it. You do not need to get anyone’s coffee, lunch or dry cleaning (unless it’s specifically in your job description, like a personal assistant, for example). And absolutely no touching is allowed. And no trading sexual favors for advancement. I’m hoping I didn’t have to say those last two, but it bears repeating.

Become Your Own Best Advocate

All of this to say that you need to become your own best advocate and demand advocacy from your superiors so, you too, can become a leader in your credit union. As women, we’re not always used to doing that, but it really is necessary to level the playing field with the men we work with. Most men in positions of power are unwilling to help or unaware of how they block women from advancement. How you go about bringing unhelpful attitudes and behaviors to their attention will require a little bit of finesse and a whole lot of fortitude. Sometimes a gentle nudge will work. Sometimes a sledgehammer is necessary. Either way, it is critically important that you do your part to make sure you’re on the path to a corner office and a reserved parking spot.

You got this!

Executive, credit union leader, longtime advocate for women, and now author and fashion brand co-founder, Teresa Freeborn is an outspoken and sought-after speaker and media commentator who delivers important truths with warmth, compassion and humor.

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