Should a Boss Call Their Staff Racist and Sexist?
I was accused by a supervisor of being racist and sexist. She expressed the belief that I don’t respect her because she is a woman of color. I don’t believe that I had disrespected her, and if I had inadvertently done so, it wasn’t because of her gender or ethnicity.
We were having a meeting because I was being disciplined for having left work a little early because I was feeling unwell and forgot to submit a sick leave request prior to leaving. She made the claim implying my racism and sexism apropos of nothing I had said or done in the meeting or at any time prior. The accusation put me on the defensive. Perhaps that was her intention. Because what are you supposed to do when someone says that about you?
Do you say, “I respect you,” whether that’s true or not?
Or say, “No, I disrespect you because you’re a poor leader who is promoting a toxic work environment”?
Or, “In fact, I’m inclined to respect women and people of color in positions of power more than I do white men”?
The first answer is the safe answer, the second is obviously not, and the third feels kind of overcompensatingly cringey. None of them are really the right answer. I didn’t know what to say in that situation, and still don’t, really.
I haven’t talked about this widely until now. I don’t want to be some pathetic white guy boohooing about over-wokeness and being called out for some transgression, let alone comparing the stigma of being called a racist and/or a sexist to actually being a victim of racism and/or sexism. But the thing is, there was no transgression; I didn’t do or say anything that could be construed as racist and/or sexist.
The effect of this experience was that it made my respect for this person drop. She has since levied the accusation against my colleagues, all of them women, some of them women of color, which reinforces my belief that this accusation comes from a place of insecurity on her part and doesn’t have anything to do with me, or my colleagues. It is easier for some people to believe that they are disrespected or disliked because of prejudices held by others, rather than analyze their own behaviors and personal failings. It is less harmful to one’s ego to write off people’s disrespect or dislike for you as being based on your superficial identity than to accept that they find you to be incompetent and unkind.
The effect of making such an accusation without any evidence or justification can only be negative. It makes it harder for me to respect this person, and it makes me believe it will be impossible to earn their respect. Because if she truly does believe that I am racist and sexist, how could she respect me? I couldn’t. I don’t respect people that are racist and sexist. Racists and sexists are unworthy of respect. So the whole exchange with this person was actually a roundabout way of this person telling me that she doesn’t respect or like me, and probably never will.
Supervisors and leaders of any kind should take note that this behavior does not promote a healthy work environment, does not inspire confidence, and does not make people respect you.