How can I deal with my sexist boss?

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers a new perspective on whatever is troubling you


How can I deal with my sexist boss?

Q. My male line manager’s behaviour is making me uncomfortable. He doesn’t say anything in front of colleagues but, when we are alone, he has called me ‘sweetie’, and he smiles at me in a way that makes me feel sick.

I work in a small company without an HR department, and he is ‘in’ with the bosses. I know I need to say or do something before this escalates, but have no idea how to handle it. Help! Name supplied

I was tempted to say that the first step is to make sure your line manager knows you feel uncomfortable. However, there might be a step before that, which is you practising exactly what you want to say to him. Whatever happens with this job, learning how to speak up for yourself will stand you in good stead.

I recommend an excellent online resource called They define ‘feedback’ as a person communicating about something that has been said or done at work, with the aim of either changing or encouraging that behaviour.

Useful feedback will be about behaviour, not personality; it will also be delivered at a moment quite close to when that something happened, but at a time when both people are calm. The key thing is to be specific, and talk about your own feelings, which no one can dispute. One straightforward approach is: ‘I notice that you call me sweetie when other people are not around, and it makes me uncomfortable.’

Make a note (perhaps send an email to yourself) of when you offer your feedback, and how he reacts to it. If his behaviour continues, keep a record with dates and times of all incidents, and include how they made you feel.

Whatever the relationships, your bosses ultimately have a legal responsibility for your environment at work. You can access official Government advice on employment disputes via the website for ACAS. See here for their free leaflet on bullying and harassment at work. It might be difficult to see at the moment, but you will emerge from this with new confidence and skills.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Photograph: iStock

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