1. Gender related Microaggressions


  1. What are Gender Related Microaggressions?
  2. What is Sexism?
  3. What do Gender Related Microaggressions look like?
  4. How to recognise Gender Related Microaggressions
  5. Gender related Micro Affirmative Behaviours
  6. Download our posters

1. What are Gender Related Microaggressions?

Gender related microaggressions are a form of discrimination and sexism.


Seemingly innocent transgressions are known as microaggressions and can be intentional or unintentional comments or actions directed against a person who is usually part of a marginalised group, that signal disrespect and inequality.

Gender related microaggressions may contribute to imposter syndrome. This is the feeling that you’re not qualified for your job and feel a constant pressure to validate your experiences and knowledge. This will be despite being in your role purely on merit.

Some microaggressions will result in silencing women, making women question their abilities and themselves, and reducing a women’s own self-worth. All of which can add up to impact negatively on a woman’s mental health

To get a better understanding of gender related microaggressions, it is important to understand what sexism is.

2. What is Sexism?

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on one's sex or gender. 

Sexism can affect anyone. Whilst it primarily affects women and girls, men and boys can also be subjected to it. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles and may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another, and it is considered to be the cause of gender inequity. 

Sexism also impacts people of other marginalised genders.

Sexist acts include any that frame one sex or gender as inferior.

Sexism can be conveyed in:

  • Behaviour
  • Speech
  • Writing
  • Images
  • Gestures
  • Laws and policies
  • Practices and traditions.

Different types of sexism

Sexism can be categorised in a number of ways: 1


This refers to beliefs and behaviours that are openly hostile toward a group of people based on their sex or gender. Misogyny, or the hatred of women, is an example of hostile sexism.

Examples of hostile sexism include:

  • Using sexist language or insults
  • Making threatening or aggressive comments based on a person’s gender or sex
  • Harassing or threatening someone for defying gender norms
  • Treating people as subordinates based on their sex or gender and punishing them when they “step out of line”
  • Believing that some victims of sexual assault “ask for it” due to their behaviour or appearance
  • Engaging in physical or sexual assault.


This applies some positive traits to women and femininity; it still frames one sex or gender as weaker than another. These ideas can lead to policies and behaviours that limit a person’s agency, or the ability of someone to make their own choices.

Benevolent sexism includes views and behaviours that frame women as:

  • Innocent
  • Pure
  • Caring and nurturing
  • Fragile and in need of protection
  • Beautiful.


This is a combination of benevolent and hostile sexism. People who engage in ambivalent sexism may vary between seeing women as good and innocent and seeing them as manipulative or deceitful, depending on the situation.

Examples of ambivalent sexism include:

  • Glorifying traditionally feminine behaviour and demonizing “unladylike” behaviour
  • Hiring someone because they are attractive, then firing them if they do not respond to sexual advances
  • Differentiating between “good” women and “bad” women based on how they dress.

Sexism can operate on different levels in society. It can be:


Refers to sexism that is entrenched in organisations and institutions, such as:

  • Legal systems
  • Education systems
  • Healthcare systems
  • Financial institutions
  • The media.

When policies, procedures, attitudes, or laws create or reinforce sexism, this is institutional sexism.

Institutional sexism is widespread, it can be hostile, benevolent, or ambivalent. One of the clearest indicators is the lack of gender diversity among senior leadership positions.

Another indicator is a gender pay gap. This refers to a difference in the average pay that women and men receive for their work.


Manifests during interactions with others. It can occur in the workplace, within relationships, among friends and family members, and in interactions with strangers.

Some examples of interpersonal sexism include:

  • Telling someone to be more ladylike
  • Judging someone for not fitting into stereotypes of femininity, such as by being caring or submissive
  • Making inappropriate comments about someone’s appearance
  • Talking down to someone based on assumptions about their gender.

Internalised sexism

Refers to sexist beliefs that a person has about themselves. Usually, a person adopts these beliefs involuntarily as a result of exposure to sexist behaviour or the opinions of others.

May cause feelings of:

  • Incompetence
  • Self-doubt
  • Powerlessness
  • Shame.

It also causes people to unintentionally join in and collude with sexism.

Research suggests that the lower numbers of women working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics may be due to internalised sexism.

Some other examples of internalised sexism include:

  • Making self-deprecating jokes about one’s gender, such as “blonde jokes”
  • Someone basing their self-worth on how desirable they are in the eyes of men
  • Feeling ashamed of aspects of being female, such as having periods
  • Feeling that it is essential to conform to gender ideals, even if this means harming oneself.

It is important to remember that gender based microaggressions impact the entire gender spectrum. Therefore, be mindful of gender based microaggressions directed toward transgender people and gender queer people.

3. What do Gender Related Microaggressions look like?

What do gender related microaggresions look like? Focusing a woman's value on her role as a mother, wife, or girlfriend, for example when introducing her. Focusing attention and praise on someone's appearance or attractiveness rather than their skills and knowledge. Lacking policies that support women in the workplace such as not having shared family friendly policies and women's health policies. Senior men assuming seniority automatically in meetings and teams. Expecting women to be attractive and likable and are therefore seen as less commanding and competent when they behave this way. Making inappropriate comments about someone's appearance and staring inappropriately at a women's body. Mistaking seniority - Women being assumed to be in a junior position compared to their male counterpart. Assuming that men in a meeting are the leader/decision maker. Assuming that the man is the pharmacist rather than the woman. Interrupting a woman or cutting them off when they're speaking in a meeting or in a conversation. Not asking for input into work or a project a person is involved in and not taking their contributions seriously due to the fact that they're a woman. Talking down to someone based on assumptions about their gender. Mansplaining - When men feel the need to explain something to a woman without first ascertaining that the woman either requires or welcomes the explanation. Experiencing unconscious bias at the recruitment stage - that is assuming women are not as intelligent as men or not as capable as a man and not considering them for the role. Engaging in unwanted sexual attention or touching including touching someone's arm or lower back when talking to them. Having your judgement questioned in your area of expertise and being asked to provide additional evidence of your competence. When asking for meetings to be held at a particular time of day to support with their caring responsibilities they are accused of being difficult or the request is ignored. There may also be unconscious bias at the recruitment stage compounded by other factors such as a woman's faith for example if she wears a hijab, if she has an accent or has disability. Judging someone for not fitting into stereotypes of femininity, such as not being caring or submissive. When a woman is confident and assertive accusing her of being too aggressive or challenging whereas men who behave in a similar manner are considered competent leaders. Assuming the woman is the primary caregiver or will take on the domestic duties such as pouring the tea or coffee in a meeting. Lack of empathy and support when there are experiences of women's health issues such as periods, pregnancy, miscarriage and menopause. Not taking them seriously as a genuine reason to be off from work. Mis-gendering people by not using the pronouns they have said they prefer. Being misgendered is an indication that their identity is not valued. Having a male colleague sense check or confirm what the female colleague has produced or suggested before going ahead with the project or idea. When a woman has an idea or suggestion, and it gets ignored. However, when a man says the exact same thing, he gets credit for it. Not being invited for drinks or dinner despite your male colleagues of the same grade being invited. When you are having a meeting with you and your male colleague, the other people in the meeting regularly speak directly to and look at your male colleague even though you're speaking or the leading the meeting. If you're a lead, but your team members approach your male deputy, to clarify if the advice, policy or process you have explained is correct. Men are given more time in meetings to share their thoughts, women are cut off or told to speed up. Being paid a lower salary despite having more experience and qualifications than their better paid male counterparts. Being repeatedly passed over for senior roles in favour of less well qualified males. Commenting on a woman's hair or asking to touch it, as it is different. Receiving comments about being calm or composed or speaking well for a black person. Commenting on a woman's body shape (whether it is considered a positive or negative comment).  Making jokes about men wearing feminine or flamboyant clothing asking them to dress like a man. Receiving comments about being smart for a black Pharmacist. Patients preferring to be nursed by a female staff rather than a male staff. Making comments about men who are always seen hanging out with women and no male friends assuming their sexual orientation.

4. How to recognise Gender related Microaggressions

We've collected some examples of verbal Gender related Microaggressions, with an explanation of why these comments or questions can be offensive, insulting or insensitive.

You can download this image as an A3 poster further down the page.


How to recognise Gender related Microaggressions - You should be more ladylike - smile more and not raise your voice. Why don't you want children? You will regret it later! When you're introduced to a male who, after briefly acknowledging you, they carry on talking to the male who did the initial introduction. Are you going to have children or likely to have children? How does your husband cope with you earning more than him? She's so bossy and too confident - she's not very nice. Can I speak to the male pharmacist or the man over there. In case you need more understanding it would be better if you ask your male colleague to help you - even though you have been working on the project for longer. If you have health issues that mean you are not able to cover wards, then you are not suitable for the role. Your skirt is too short or your dress is body hugging. Will you be wearing a headscarf? If you're working then who is cooking for your husband and children? As the woman you can take notes for the meeting. She talks a lot. As the woman, you can take on a more pastoral role in the workplace.  Whoever sits in that chair always get pregnant. Please be sure you don't get pregnant before that inspection or end of the project. You shouldn't be so hard on yourself for not achieving your objectives and key performance indicators. If you identify as a woman or a non-binary person, why don't you act or dress or sound more like a man? You're just overreacting. As a male I struggle with having a female line manager. This activity would be more suitable for a man not a woman. You need to be quiet and physically having a hand being put up to indicate to be quiet. If you are not able to be bare below the elbows you won't be able to work in a hospital. She is really stand-offish or so rude. The uniform does not look how it should on you - can you please lose some weight? She must be on her period or having a hot flush. You are too passionate and caring because you are too emotional. You are power hungry.




5. Gender related Micro Affirmative Behaviours

You have a duty to ensure that you’re not acting in a discriminatory manner, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Take positive micro-affirmative actions to be gender inclusive and prevent microaggressions.

Encourage an inclusive culture which is understanding and open to education. Provide support and comfort for individuals and create new positive behaviours.

  • Be mindful of your biases, perceptions, and expectations of women – challenge your values that make you think women are lesser than men
  • Challenge your view of traditional gender roles and behaviours
  • Recognising there is a benefit in having different voices at the table. Appreciate that a broad spectrum of people results in problem-solving skills being enhanced as there are different approaches to projects with the diversity of thought improving the final outcome
  • Think about how you touch and speak to women – think about where you’re placing your hand on a woman’s body – it can be very invasive or intrusive putting your hands on their waist or nape of their back. If you’re in a crowded space, what should you do? Be conscious of the space around you and how you navigate it, so you don’t touch someone without their consent
  • If someone speaks up against a microaggression, or tells you they're hurt by what you said or did, don’t argue that it didn’t happen - try and understand how your behaviour can be changed
  • Don’t insist women prove their qualifications if you wouldn’t ask the same of men
  • To minimise misgendering individuals – ask people what their pronouns are before making an assumption. You can ask people to include their pronouns when they introduce themselves to someone new or in workshops and meetings.
  • If you’re chairing a meeting, make sure you have given everyone the opportunity to contribute
  • If a woman has been interrupted in a meeting, and you witness this, you can provide them with the opportunity to finish their contribution by saying, "xx, can we just return to what you were saying..."
  • When you see someone else’s suggestions have been reframed and appropriated by men in the room, you should acknowledge the originator
  • You will often need to take ideas further by discussion, you can acknowledge the originator by saying something like, "developing Jenny's idea…"
  • Acknowledging women's contributions to discussion and ensuring they have been acknowledged on the work they have contributed to, such as papers and polices
  • Better women’s health support in the workplace by introducing women’s health policies
  • Avoid using negative words such as ‘aggressive’, ‘bossy’, ‘too much’ when talking about someone – and politely correct anyone who does so
  • If there are people in your team with family or caring responsibilities, book in meetings times that are suitable for everyone.

6. Download our posters

In addition to the behaviour highlighted above, Gender related micro-aggressive behaviours can be verbal, non-verbal or environmental.

Download our posters below, on How to recognise Gender related Microaggressions, and What do Gender related Microaggressions look like?

A3-Gender Microaggressions Speech Bubbles-page-001 A3-Gender Microaggressions-Behaviours-page-001