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Eula Scott Bynoe is a doula, childbirth educator, equity trainer. She estimates that she’s had around 30 jobs in her life. From Sunglass Hut to a plant nursery, the 34-year-old has worked a slew of retail jobs. She’s quit many gigs and has been fired multiple times:
Jeannie Yandel, 44, has worked at KUOW, a public radio station in Seattle, since 2001. She started as an intern, then became an award-winning producer and editor, reporting on everything from the ferry system to homelessness to power posing.
These two women are the hosts of “Battle Tactics For Your Sexist Workplace,” a podcast from KUOW. Chances are, you can relate to at least one component of their respective paths to a paycheck, including this: Scott Bynoe and Yandel have worked in sexist places.
They’ve dealt with it in their own ways.
Scott Bynoe, who also hosts “Hella Black Hella Seattle,” has always been quick to call out racism and sexism at work. Yandel pumped breast milk in a lactation room that doubled as an electrical closet. She has been interrupted, and people have taken credit for her ideas. But she didn’t always associate these incidents with sexism or see them as part of a systemic bias — until she read “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace),” a book penned by New York Times gender editor Jessica Bennett in 2016.
In “Feminist Fight Club,” Bennett uses decades’ worth of social science research to illustrate the effects sexism, which is still alive and well, can have on a workplace. She also dives into ways people can create change. The book inspired Yandel, and when she interviewed Bennett in front of a Seattle audience two years ago, she realized there was still so much ground to cover.
The next day, Yandel walked into an editor’s office, showed him a copy of Bennett’s book and pitched a podcast. After months of persistence, Season 1 of the podcast debuted in July. With a spoonful of wit, Scott Bynoe and Yandel present stories about real life workplace dilemmas, then they dig into the why, interviewing guests about topics such as being a better advocate for your co-workers and refusing to do office housework. Each episode ends with practical “battle tactics” listeners can and have used in their daily lives. (Using the pay negotiation episode, one listener got a raise, while another got a better rate on her phone bill, Scott Bynoe said.)
We asked readers to share their workplace problems, then turned to Yandel and Scott Bynoe for advice. From how to deal with a competitive manager to returning from maternity leave, here’s how they responded:
Submissions have been edited for clarity and to protect anonymity.
I had to work very closely with a co-worker who said ridiculously racist and offensive things. I’m biracial and conditionally white passing, so I feel like people think it’s “okay” to say things they wouldn’t to someone who looks more POC.
This co-worker called the police on a customer, body shamed customers and used slurs. I spoke to my manager about the latter, and she spoke with the employee, who is now leaving the company to work elsewhere.
HR notes: Most HR for my retail chain is now done online, although floor managers have some authority with employees.
In this case, the person already made a few strong choices, Scott Bynoe and Yandel pointed out, and someone else in this predicament could take similar steps: She advocated for herself by speaking with her manager about the employee’s use of racial slurs. The podcast hosts also had one shared piece of advice that applies to any and all workplace issues: Document, document, document.
“Write everything down,” Scott Bynoe said, noting that you should also tell someone outside of work to mark the incident. If the person is a repeat offender, you can report them again to build a case, even if it’s to an HR department that is only accessible online.
Documenting the situation gives you some control over the situation, Yandel said:
You know how often these instances occur, how it affects other people, and whether the person’s actions or comments are bad for business, which might interest a retailer.
When reporting racist incidents to HR or a manager, Scott Bynoe also emphasized the importance of sharing how the person’s comments make you feel mentally and physically. It helps others understand the magnitude of the situation, and it’s a tactic she’s used before.
“People don’t realize how much racism affects us. I get down to it,” Scott Bynoe said. “I’ll say, ‘I grind my teeth at night thinking about how it would feel to go to work with her the next day.’ ‘When I work with her, I have to take an extra 15-minute break because ... I have to get out of there to decompress.’ ‘I spend an extra $7 a day on a big ass sugary drink, and I’ve gained seven pounds.’ ”
In my department, I am the only female. I am also the youngest employee at my company. Despite my vast experience and education, I often face instances of being considered incapable. I am often talked down to, passed over for tasks, mocked and interrupted. I have point blank asked my male co-workers why my time is less valuable than theirs or called them out on their behavior. This only results in retaliation or jokes made at my own expense. How can I battle this?
HR notes: There are about 100 people in my workplace, and we don’t have an HR department. The incidents I experience do include my superiors, but they do include people who have some power.
If she’s exhausted all of her options by going to a manager, try deploying empathy, Scott Bynoe suggested. A speech like this would “crush” her male friends, even in “their worst, most toxic and masculine ways,” she said:
For bonus tactics: Listen to this BTSW episode about getting interrupted.
I work on a large development project as the lead of a small strategic team. Over the summer, I had a baby and took four months of leave. While I was out, one of my supervisees served as my acting. I’d hired him just a few months before I left, but from all accounts, he did a great job while I was gone. I’ve been respectful and acknowledged the good work he did in my absence.
But since returning to work a month ago, he’s seemed a little reticent to hand back work he took over for me. This week at a client meeting that I was running late to, I walked in only to hear him introduce himself as the director of our team. I couldn’t tell if it was just an unconscious slip from when he was acting team lead or if he is subtly undermining me/not respecting my role.
Also, the project leadership is all male and this guy is a definitely a guy’s guy (e.g. he goes to baseball games/golfs with the project director). I’m not sure if this is a big enough issue to bring up at this point and if so, how exactly do I handle it?
Take him out to lunch, Yandel said, and “walk through the things he liked doing the most during the four months she was gone.”
He’s probably thinking about his career trajectory, so if “she has an idea of what he would like to be doing, that could serve as a road map for what his next few years at the company look like,” Yandel said.
And if he’s schmoozing with leadership socially, Yandel suggested scheduling a monthly get-together during working hours. A team lunch or happy hour gives everyone the opportunity to cultivate professional relationships — and no one has to make special arrangements for child care.
For bonus tactics: Listen to this BTSW episode about how we can make the workplace better for mothers.
I work for a woman who is a bully. My boss feels in direct competition with all the managers who work below her. If one of us has an idea or is passionate about something, she works to repress us. I really want to learn new skills, but she holds knowledge close so that managers cannot move past where we are.
Museums are dominated by white men who occupy top positions, such as president or chief executive. While my boss is a woman, she exhibits perfect patriarchal adherence and hurts me and all the other woman who work for her because she is fearful of competition. She acts in opposition to Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow’s Shine Theory:
HR notes: I cannot go to HR because there is only one person who runs the show. This person is an unprofessional gossip.
Create your own culture at work, Scott Bynoe said. Meet with other co-workers and brainstorm some house rules, like:
The boss can even lead this process. If the staff makes it clear that they’re not interested in a competitive workplace, she might view things differently.
This boss probably had to fight to get to the top in a male-dominated field, Scott Bynoe said, and it’s almost like someone needs to say: “We’re done, girl. You’re at the top, and the only way you’re going to get higher is if we push you higher. Literally. You’re not going to go anywhere if we fail at what we’re doing. How do we start making progress?”
Yandel offered a secondary solution from her own playbook: Hold strategy sessions with co-workers. It provides validation, but it can also be tactical. Figure out what ideas people want to implement at work and prioritize them. Then, individually, share the same idea with your boss. Eventually, he or she might latch on to the concept.
There is a frat boy culture at my work. I feel like I’m contributing to it as a guy by not objecting out loud, even if I don’t participate when I feel the humor becomes toxic. My co-workers, who are overwhelmingly male, feel free to make raunchy jokes since there aren’t women around, in part because an environment like this would feel palpably toxic to a woman.
HR notes: “HR” is one woman who is the office manager as well. She participates in the rhetoric in an almost equally bro-y, “I’m cool” way.
“He already knows the answer,” Yandel said. “If he feels like he’s contributing because he’s not saying something, he’s right.
He has privilege and power … to speak up. He’s probably scared he’s going to lose some stature and standing, and he might, but this is a Spiderman moment: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’”
If he feels like he needs to lay some groundwork first, the next time someone makes an inappropriate comment, start observing people’s body language, Yandel said. Chances are, someone else in the room is uncomfortable, too. Try to talk to those men later on and come up with ways to address the issue or collectively change the conversation.
For bonus tactics: Listen to this BTSW episode about how men can use their power for good.
I work with a married couple in a setting where we deal with patients. The husband is handsy, and he loves to talk about sex at work. He doesn’t necessarily have power, but he is in charge of training new employees. The wife often bullies people she does not like at work. Both are sloppy, and they aren’t good at their jobs. Other people see it, too, and I went to HR twice about the situation.
HR notes: I don’t think HR has done anything, but I can’t be sure. Good people are being driven out while these bullies get to stay forever.
This is an example of sexual harassment. Here’s how 9to5, a national organization that advocates for women in the workplace, defines it:
Continue reporting these incidents, Yandel and Scott Bynoe urged. And if her co-workers have witnessed or experienced this behavior, encourage them to report it to HR, too. Since people are being driven out, she could connect with people who already quit: “The stakes are lower for people who are already gone to come back and explain the situation,” Yandel said.
If nothing changes, she might consider looking at her options.
“I don’t like saying, ‘If it’s a problem just quit,’” Yandel said, “but [as someone working in medicine], she’s probably pretty hirable.”
Scott Bynoe, who has experience quitting jobs, recognized that not everyone’s in a position to let go of reliable income. But she offered this bit of wisdom to anyone who is worn down:
“It’s wild the amount of time we spend at work. It’s wild the amount of time we spend with co-workers. And it’s really wild that sometimes we do it in a place that’s just toxic, and we keep going back because we’re afraid to uplift ourselves.”
This helpline will review labor laws with callers, but it does not provide legal advice. Anyone with a workplace dilemma can call 800-522-0925 if they need tools, resources or a listening ear. If you call after regular business hours, leave a message and someone will get back to you.
NWLC runs the Legal Network for Gender Equity, which connects people who are facing sex discrimination with legal assistance. The organization also houses the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which may be able to offer financial assistance for a workplace sexual harassment case and provide media support.