The 7 Worst Things You Can Say To Women At Work

Everyone has a few career low points, whether it's crying at work or oversharing in a job interview. Navigating the working world is complicated.

Unfortunately, sometimes it can also be like high school, complete with cliques, bullies, and name-calling. Although that old school adage claims that "words will never hurt me," in truth, it can be pretty painful when someone calls you a bitch — or worse. Ahead, seven women speak up about the worst thing someone has said to them in the workplace — and how they responded.
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I am the boss. I'm not bossy, I'm the boss.

"I've been told I was combative and aggressive. I told that person, well, I am the boss. I'm not bossy, I'm the boss. It's just tough. I speak my mind and say my opinion, ask questions and engage in conversation and debate, and I'm not sitting on the sidelines. At first I didn't like being called combative, but now I embrace it. If that's what it takes to make me successful and get me to where I want to go, I can live with being called a bitch.

I was called a bitch once to my face, and it was someone who worked under me. She was a younger woman. It was confusing in a way, because I didn't expect to have a woman call me that, and it hurt for a while, but I realized I was just doing my job. I was giving her feedback. I actually shared this story with my executive coach recently, and she was like, 'Wait, you've only been called a bitch once? You might need that to happen more.' So I guess it's part of being a woman in business.

I try to educate my team to have more empathy and compassion, so we can avoid those knee-jerk reactions, like: He's a dumbass, she's a bitch. I also think a lot of young women need to get more comfortable being the boss, saying no, guiding people, and not waiting. We wait our entire lives, for a guy to invite us to prom, to invite us on a date, and I think it's time to stop waiting and maybe grab the bull by the horn." — Anonymous, 37

My dad always said, 'You can never misquote silence.'

"I work in the music industry so it's a bit more liberal. Who knows what people have said behind my back, but I have been called a bitch to my face. I definitely reacted with surprise, but internally I was laughing a little bit, because it was like, of course. I'm being assertive, direct with my feelings, so of course you're calling me a bitch. In that particular moment, it was more important than ever that I stay cool, calm, and collected, because when someone says something like that to you, your very next move will dictate the rest of that conversation. Rather than defending myself or getting emotional, I err on the side of less. My dad always said, 'You can never misquote silence.' So I think I said something like, 'I'm surprised to hear you say that, I'd love to hear more about why you feel that way.' If someone sets a trap for you, you just have to step around it." — Jami, 36

Out of all the words in the dictionary, ever, that would not be one I would ever attribute to myself.

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"I'm very thankful that no one has ever called me a bitch or told me I was crazy to my face, but a couple of years ago we were in a group talking about perceptions of each other, and one woman said to me, 'Well, you're really arrogant.' I was like, what? Out of all the words in the dictionary, ever, that would not be one I would ever attribute to myself. It didn't hurt my feelings, really, it was more just startling, also because I felt she was more aggressive than me. So I just said, 'Well, I think you're more of a hustler, so maybe we should work together. If we can figure out how to work together we'd be unstoppable.'" — Jessica, 34

He would catch my eye and say, 'Hey sweetheart,' and wink.

“At my old job there was this one guy who was a little older, and whenever he walked by my desk, he would catch my eye and say, 'Hey sweetheart,' and wink. At first I was like, 'What the heck?' and I kept trying to find a motive, but in the end, I think that was just how he addressed young women in the office. It was like a generational thing, a Mad Men era thing happening.

I definitely felt weird every single time it happened. I never said anything, I never stopped it. I mean, I didn’t like it. It was kind of condescending, and it actually made me feel like a secretary, which I was not. He would never use those words if I were a male at my age, and he definitely wouldn’t call another woman older than me and in a higher position than me 'sweetheart.' But I don’t think he meant any harm, even though I do think it’s harmful in some ways. If I were in a different place at a different time, like if I was more of his equal, I would probably let him know I didn’t like it somehow. I’m not sure how I would, though, because 'Don’t call me sweetheart' is kind of aggressive." — Megan, 25

They started saying that I have 'retard strength,' which is offensive on so many levels.

"I was a butcher for two years, and you know the food industry is typically very misogynistic. I had moved to a butcher shop in Chelsea — it's no longer there — and it was such a hostile work environment. They knew I was capable and they needed me because I was the only one on staff at night, so they had to be 'nice,' but they would make it clear that they thought they could do my job better than me.

Around three months in, when the other butchers felt comfortable enough with me to 'joke,' they started saying that I have 'retard strength,' which is offensive on so many levels. I guess it's supposed to mean that you don't look capable, but you end up being capable, like someone who looks doughy and dumb turns out to be capable and strong. It wasn't super easy to talk to them about it, because once you do something like that you become the workplace bitch, and in the past I had brought up comments at other jobs, and it didn't help. It doesn't make it better because there's nobody on your side. So I just let it slide off, because I had to, but that was around that time when I decided to leave." — Ash, 28
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At my last job one of the partners would call me 'princess,' and it always made me feel really uncomfortable.

"At my last job one of the partners would call me 'princess,' and it always made me feel really uncomfortable. He would throw it into conversation, mostly when no one else was around, like if I was by myself, working late at night. It was really weird, but I didn't say anything and I didn't want to make a big deal out of it. He was just wildly offensive at all times, like during the World Cup he called another guy a Nazi because the guy wanted the German team to win. So I kind of brushed it all off because there was no reasoning with him. If I were working for someone now who just said it offhand, I would say something, but I probably won't work for anyone that offensive again." — Danielle, 23

A dude at a work party told us that our job was to 'stand here and look pretty.'

"I worked at a nonprofit once, where me and my co-worker were called overly-sensitive, but this was at a place where the CEO had made an anti-Semitic joke, and another dude at a work party told us that our job was to 'stand here and look pretty.' Luckily our supervisor was really cool, and she addressed these issues, but I don't know what I would've done if she hadn't been so supportive." — Amelia, 30
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