A friend of mine is a student at a british dental school, and the seniors in question are the professors of said school.
She has mentioned her professional environment is predominantly female, with male seniors. She feels the seniors are very domineering and pompous in conferences and large meetings, which occasionally manifests itself in a mildly sexist manner.
This friend doesn't wish to cause a ruckus, she is doing well but I mentioned that if things are getting on her nerves, she probably isn't the only one.
I responded that she might be complicit unless she complains but am starting to backtrack in my thought process. I completely understand that maintaining the status quo is much easier and she doesn't feel she has a rigid statement that can be made (the difficulty of the situation) as it's primarily the emotional response to derogatory statements.
The question is: Without intervening directly into the situation, what advice can I provide on dealing with sexism in professional spaces that won't hinder her work/work relationships more than it currently is?
She is a deep thinking introvert, doesn't always answer the academic questions she knows the answers to and definitely doesn't want to sour relationships with professors.
As mentioned above, the examples she gave didn't immediately sound like sexism, hence the difficulty in raising formal complaint, but perhaps a perception over the past 4 years of her degree that confirms the small comments. Specifically, there were a series of taunts to the students due to the lack of answers to the questions he was answering (its exam season, other priorities exist). Over the years, some students have had bum slaps, etc, which is a flagrant issue.
My fear is that this behaviour unchallenged perpetuates an unsuitable situation for students of the years to come. They're certainly a part of an older generation.
I should also add, this was a quick 10 minute outpouring while I was driving, so I'm unable to provide the level of detail some are asking for. It clearly was a point of emotional difficulty because she phoned her mum soon after the event. What I can say is that the subtlety of sexism was demonstrated through mannerisms and body language, not with physical contact (exception mentioned above) or direct speech.
Expanding on my question, I have thus far advised that she create some formalised complaint to register her issue with the conduct of her professors, perhaps anonymously. I have also suggested speaking to her course reps. She herself conceded that the issues were too vague, which is why it hasn't left her immediate friends and family up to this point.
The core of the issue is definitely an emotional one. As a direct individual, my standard approach is to fix a problem head-on by speaking to those I have fault with, if I deem the battle worth pursuing.
To provide more specific context (to the best of my ability as I don't feel I can revisit the topic without her prompting), what alternative advice can I offer for responding to:
- Corporate blame and receiving downspeak from seniors
- Responding to sexism in the workplace without a clear case and point for formal allegations