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New study finds women confronting workplace sexism is beneficial

  • Kim Buckley
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Research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that publicly confronting sexism in the workplace benefits women by boosting self-esteem and confidence in their skills.

Female study participants who addressed a sexist comment in a virtual workplace felt empowered by doing so.

Previous research had shown there are disadvantages to confronting discrimination in the workplace, said Sarah Gervais, an assistant professor of psychology at UNL.

Gervais said costs of confronting discrimination in the workforce include being viewed by others as a whiner or a complainer.

"One thing I was interested in looking at was whether there were any benefits to confronting discrimination in the work place," she said.

Participants in the study were assigned roles to play in a chat room. After they saw a sexist comment aimed at a woman, they rated how problematic or inappropriate the comment was and chose whether to respond publicly to the statement.

About 55 percent of the study's participants confronted the remark, Gervais said. Other experiments generally have a 40 percent confrontation rate.

Women who confronted the situation felt better about themselves and felt more confident about their work skills, the study found.

"It serves as an antidote to the negative aspects of sexism," Gervais said.

Jan Deeds, director of the UNL Women's Center, said the results of the study made sense.

Gervais said this reaction from women could be because the sexist comment was made at a woman in the group, so it was directed at someone in their social group.

"If you are a person who is experiencing sexists remarks, sometimes you don't do anything because it might make it worse," she said.

Men who participated in the study said they didn't feel an increased sense of empowerment when they addressed the situation.

The study also found that people the survey identified as "community-oriented" were more likely to confront discrimination than those who focused on themselves. This could mean that creating a greater sense of community at work would increase chances of workers standing up for themselves.

Deeds said women face discrimination in the workforce when they don't get selected for leadership roles as easily as men, or are paid less for the same work.

"I still listen to stories of women in meetings with both men and women where a woman would say an idea and be ignored while a man would say the same thing and people would say what a good idea it was," she said.

Gervais said confronting sexism in the workplace can empower women.

"If you're experiencing some sort of prejudice, just remember there are positives of confronting it," she said.

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