August 01, 2019

Here’s Your Sign

What’s in a name?  Comedian Bill Engvall, Jr. of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour has plenty of content tied to this saying.  It’s about the labels we slap on people.  I was recently described as, “a bit old school, some internalized misogyny.”  I took some time to get over my emotional reaction to having those labels slapped upon me, particularly the latter. Both Webster and Wikipedia use the word “hate” or “hatred” to define misogyny.  My recovery took longer than I expected, about 24 hours. In that time, I decided to use it as a learning opportunity.  I took time to hold up the mirror and reflect. I also asked some questions.

  1. Is a woman who calls another woman a misogynist a misogynist herself?
  2. Is a woman who calls a man a misogynist a misandrist?
  3. Is a man who calls … and so on; you get the idea.


But enough about me.  Look at our workplaces.  Does one day go by that you do not hear the resounding slap of a label?  The boss is a bully. A coworker is arrogant. The customer is demanding. And, those are the best versions of label slapping. The bad ones end up in the headlines.

  • An employee is called “Mom” and “Mommy” by her coworkers. The court finds in her favor on claims of hostile work environment and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
  • Another employee is described as a “stupid Egyptian.” He sues alleging discrimination in violation of Title VII and the appellate court finds in his favor.
  • Another employee, who is a Vietnam era veteran with PTSD (unknown to his coworkers) is given the nickname “Psycho.” The court finds in his favor on an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) discrimination claim.



  1. Be the eyes and ears of your organization. When you see unkind, unprofessional, inappropriate conduct intervene! Say something to the offender, the perceived victim, HR or a management representation.  Doing nothing may be perceived as condoning the behavior.
  2. Exercise the three D’s of bystander intervention: Direct, Distract, Delegate. Train your employees how to do the same.
  3. When a label is slapped upon you, pause. Don’t react – at least not initially. Think it through. Try to be objective.
  4. Ask what you can do to avoid that perception in the future.  If the label is 100%  inaccurate, make a civil inquiry and actively listen to what others tell you about their perception of you, what you say, what you do and how you say and do it.
  5. If the label might have just a bit a truth in it, recognize it; own it.  We all have some implicit biases.  Just be sure you don’t act on those biases in the workplace.
  6. A Resource: In your own personal space, on your own time, I invite you to take one or more of Harvard’s Implicit Bias assessments.  You may not be surprised by your results. I expect you will not be. But, I hope you will find it to be a good opportunity to quietly recognize, reflect and own those biases.  I did.