"I called a senior-level manager to find out why one of my team members did not pass a board certification. When he provided the feedback, I pushed back with strong points. He immediately pulled the girl card. Instead of addressing my issues, he said: `Obviously you are too emotional to talk now. I said I was fine and asked another question, and then he said: `Why don’t we talk when you have calmed down? Would he have talked to a male colleague that way? I don’t think so. By the way, 'pulling the girl card' is making a reaction that would be normal coming from a man seem emotional when coming from a woman."
It’s not fair, is it? I won’t bother to ask the question: “Were you actually overemotional in the interaction?” Because the truth is, there’s no right answer. Overemotionality is in the eye of the beholder and completely subjective. According to Stephanie Shields in an article for the Review of General Psychology, because men (as the dominant group) determine what is socially acceptable in a given context, women’s natural and more diverse reactions are more likely to be seen as inappropriate. And per a 2007 study by Van Kleef & Cote, the display of inappropriate emotions is associated with decreased influence in workplace relationships.
It’s important to understand that your male colleague isn’t trying to pull the “girl card.” Rather, unconscious bias may be at play here. Unconscious bias is basing one’s response to someone on an assumption about their gender, age, race, etc. Your colleague might treat a man differently, but he probably doesn’t realize it. So telling him he’s pulling the “girl card” isn’t going to help matters and will probably only escalate the situation.
Next time you’re in a situation like this, here’s what you should do. At the get go, concisely explain the facts, ask questions for clarification and avoid conjecture. Always strive to be assertive, which is defined as expressing your views while respecting those of others. The core of assertiveness is using “I” statements. In this case, an example would be: “I feel that my team member deserved to pass the board certification. Can you help me understand where you think she needs to improve?”
If there are any objective signs that you are upset or stressed out (e.g. you’ve raised your voice, your hands are shaking or tears are pricking at your eyelids), excuse yourself immediately and continue the discussion when you can remain totally calm and rational. Make sure you do not show anger or defensiveness at the male colleague’s comments.
You say above that you “pushed back with strong points,” which indicates that you might have come across like you were on the warpath. Assertiveness differs from aggressiveness in its diplomatic approach and its validation of others’ points of view. Assertive communicators demonstrate empathy rather than chastising others for their behavior or decisions. Even if the two of you never completely see eye to eye, an assertive approach makes it far less likely that a colleague will pull the “girl card.”