Improve your speech for non-native English speakers. Click here to learn more.

  • Audiobook

    Audiobook Icon Audiobook now on sale! Also available on Audible.com.

    “Great graduation present!”

    Inspired to extend a helping hand to ambitious women working in corporate America, a veteran executive offers honest, practical, slightly irreverent advice about navigating companies that are run and populated predominately by men.


    Buy the paperback here.


    Learn to see yourself as others do and become magnetic, magnanimous, and memorable! Savvy advice, specific examples, and tactical exercises to develop your presence—in months, not years.

  • About the Author

    Jennifer K. Crittenden earned an MBA in finance and worked for over twenty years in the US and abroad, rising from financial analyst to chief financial officer. She is the author of five books, including the award-winning Discreet Guide for Executive Women. She offers professional development programs through her company The Discreet Guide.

    Read her LinkedIn profile.

  • Links to Booksellers:

    Paperback, Kindle and Audio versions available here on Amazon.

    Paperback and ePub version available here at Powells.

    Audio version available here at audible.com.

    Paperback and Nook versions available here at Barnes & Noble.

    Paperback version available here at Alibris.

    Paperback and ePub versions available here at BookDepository.com (free shipping worldwide).

    ePub version available here on diesel-ebooks.

    ePub version available here on eBookMall.

“Sorry, Ladies” – The Dark Side of Workplace Humor

A friend told me that an outside male speaker had been invited to give a presentation to her business school cohort, where it just so happened she was one of only two women. The speaker began his talk by apologizing to the “ladies,” and then told an off-color joke. My friend was taken off guard, didn’t find the joke funny, and was stunned into silence. Bad Outside Speaker, no, no! If I’d been there, I’d have spanked him with a newspaper.

What’s the right response? It’s worth thinking about and preparing yourself because some guys start out telling these kinds of jokes (and by the way, it’s doubly annoying when they apologize for telling the jokes—as though they are gentlemen when it’s now quite obvious that they are not) as though it were all in fun and then start escalating the nastiness behind the jokes to where it’s not funny at all and has turned into sexual harassment. So, when guys start telling jokes at your expense, or at your gender’s expense, you have to fight back. How do you do that?

I’ll make some suggestions here, and you can think about what would feel comfortable for you and maybe try out a few if you get in that situation and see how it works. We all have different styles, so some behaviors feel more natural than others. And you do want your reaction to be consistent with your personality, so that your co-workers or fellow students aren’t shocked by your behavior.

First, keep it light. Demonstrate that you have a sense of humor—that joke just wasn’t funny. So, you don’t have to turn into a sourpuss, but you can spar back. Communicate with your reaction that he started it, he attacked you, and you’re not going to take that lying down. He is messing with the wrong girl. So, you might raise your hand up and ‘shoot’ him with your thumb and index finger and blow the smoke off your finger. With a smile of course. That will surely get a laugh from your classmates which sends a great message to Mr. Naughty Outside Speaker that you and your classmates are bonded, and HE is the outsider, not you. Or give the ‘I’m watching you’ sign with two fingers by pointing at your eyes and then pointing at him. Or you might crumple up a piece of paper and throw it at him. Try to hit him in the head. I wouldn’t throw anything that could really hurt him, but don’t hold back. It’s even funnier if you use his handout. You can continue the joke by asking to share your partner’s handout because “mine has come up missing.” Don’t be surprised at how fast your classmates move to back you up once you’ve pointed out that he’s out of line. Real gentlemen don’t like to see women picked on.

If physical humor doesn’t work for you or you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, you can try out some verbal come-backs. Be careful that you don’t sound humorless or angry. Those reactions won’t win your classmates over and may unfortunately only reinforce the stereotype that women don’t have a sense of humor. Don’t let Mr. Naughty get the upper hand by rolling his eyes and saying, “I’m just kidding.” You can have a few stock phrases that you turn to, “Where’d you learn that one? 4th grade?” Or, “Don’t make me come up there!” Or, “What century are you from?” Or just glare at him and say, “Okay, that’s ONE,” and then smile to show that you’re not really mad, but he’s on a short leash. The point is to convey to him that he has made a mistake—you’re not going to hold it against him, but he better not do it again. Your classmates or colleagues will enjoy seeing you show some spunk and it takes the awkwardness out of the situation.

Of course, if the joke is funny, go ahead and laugh. I think lots of jokes that some people would consider politically incorrect are funny as heck. But mean jokes about women aren’t funny. They’re mean.


Copyright © 2012 Jennifer K. Crittenden
Sign up for an individualized program to enhance your own Presence:
Creating Presence

The program includes self-assessments of areas related to authority, credibility, authenticity, trust, composure, and confidence. Tactical lessons include voice, body language, social and language skills. Context-specific behaviors are identified, studied, evaluated, and practiced. Individual coaching is provided in six 90-minute video-Skype sessions, followed by readings and exercises, including audio and video analysis of self and others. Participants will receive Crittenden’s new handbook Creating Presence (Whistling Rabbit Press, 2013), addressing such topics as behaviors versus perceptions, derailers, stage fright, and pre-performance rituals. Program time totals 56 hours, typically over six months. The cost is $3000. More information here.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



  • Invest in Yourself! Executive Presence

    Customized one-on-one consulting program to enhance your presence, both professionally and personally. Available from anywhere. Starts anytime. Ten 90-minute individualized sessions. Private and confidential. More info
  • Experts About the Presence of Others

  • Trailer for Exceptional Presence Program

  • Archived Issues

    Click here for the "Debunking Psychological Studies" Issue - November 2019.

    Click here for the "Imposter Syndrome" Issue - May 2019.

    Click here for the "Improv" Issue - Mar 2019.

    Click here for the "Podcast" Issue - Jan 2019.

    Click here for the "Books" Issue - Nov 2018.

    Click here for the "Civility and Anger" Issue - Sep 2018.

    Click here for the "Women and Money" Issue - July 2018.

    Click here for the "Training" Issue - May 2018.

    Click here for the "Lady" Issue - Mar 2018.

    Click here for the "Year of the Woman" Issue - Jan 2018.

    Click here for the "Sexual Misconduct" Issue - Nov 2017.

    Click here for the "Empathy" Issue - Sep 2017.

    Click here for the "Uncommon Courtesy" Issue - July 2017.

    Click here for the "Humor" Issue - May 2017.

    Click here for the "Stage Fright" Issue - Mar 2017.

    Click here for the "Women's March" Issue - Jan 2017.

    Click here for the "Executive Presence" Issue - Nov 2016.

    Click here for the "New Opportunity, i.e., Looking for Work" Issue - Sep 2016.

    Click here for the "Business Travel" Issue - July 2016.

    Click here for the "Bully" Issue - May 2016.

    Click here for the "Men, Women, and Money" Issue - March 2016.

    Click here for the "Boss" Issue - January 2016.

    Click here for the November 2015 Apology Edition.

    Click here for the September 2015 Single Mother Edition.

    Click here for the July 2015 Negotiation Edition.

    Click here for the May 2015 Birthday Edition.

    Click here for the Mar 2015 First Edition.

  • Straight Talk Logo