Like every other person who lives a good chunk of their life on the Internet, I’ve fallen into the Clubhouse spiral. (VS plug: We’re on CH, too!). I’ve hopped from room to room, explored book clubs and science-fiction conspiracy theories, listened to startups pitch to VCs, lurked in rooms promising gossip about the rich and famous. But the most cathartic one I’ve been a part of was one about toxic work cultures. This little room of twenty strangers openly venting about the workplaces they survived ended up being a compilation of casual to severe sexism in the workplace; reminding me of so many of my past experiences.
While the experiences in that room are not mine to share, I thought I could write about the things I have witnessed. When I started to make my list, I realized that I’m still afraid of sharing it all. I’m afraid they’ll be traced back to sexist ex-bosses, I’m afraid they’ll mark me as a difficult woman to work with. For all my big feminist talk of being and feeling empowered, I feel small for not being able to call out people who have perpetrated toxic work cultures. What I can do, for now, is to give you a list of what is definitely a red flag in the workplace. Things I wish I had known when I started working:
There is no absolutely no reason for a manager to call you after midnight to “catch up” on non-work-related topics. This is such a common tale, across industries, and it’s an especially tough one to navigate when there’s a power imbalance.
Be wary of management that leans into the “We Are Family” narrative when you try to report toxic work culture. However tightly knit your workplace is, it is not your family, especially when it is directly harming you.
No HR should be questioning you about the origins of your last name and what your family does during the interview process. That is casteist, friends.
They also definitely shouldn’t be asking you if you’re going to quit after getting married, or whether you’re planning on getting pregnant soon.
Any comments on your weight, body hair, makeup (or lack thereof) or physical appearance in general are not okay, and not your fault. This is a microaggression that feels seemingly harmless at the moment, but I don’t remember ever witnessing similar comments about men in the workplace. I feel weird even calling this one out, it didn't mess me up or traumatize me in any way. The double standard was just frustrating, and even when I occasionally called it out, I was met with a “don’t take it so seriously, ya”
This list of red flags will hopefully help the people reading this identify toxic work cultures, but it is important to note that it is limited. It is still the experiences compiled from women in “formal” working environments, it is from women who’ve had the ability to vent about it and even leave, when push comes to shove. It doesn’t make it acceptable, but to widen your horizon of what sexism in the workplace can look like beyond these bubbles, I highly recommend reading “Lady Driver: Stories of Women Behind the Wheel by Jayawati Shrivastava and The Truth About Me by A. Revathi.”
What are your red flags in the workplace? Write to me, I’d love to hear your experiences.
Nidhi Mathur (she/her)
Senior Manager- Business Development and Strategy