My boss (who is male) treats the women of our office different than our male colleagues. It ranges in scope from not taking our ideas as seriously to asking only the female employees to clean out the fridge.
What can I do to call him out professionally and help change his behavior?
Seething in Silence
The frustration you’re feeling is not surprising, and yours is sadly not an uncommon situation. One of your first actions, if you don’t already know, is to learn about your institution’s culture on EEO and TItle IX in the workplace (what policies are in place, what reporting is required, what resources are available to you and your office, along with any available training for managers and employees).
Once you understand your institutional culture, several ideas come to mind for dealing with your situation - some “official” and some less so. The order you apply them will depend on your office dynamics and the policies and resources available to you.
You can request a confidential meeting with HR. Any documentation you have of specific incidents and dates - from a factual and observational perspective, leaving out assumptions and emotions - will probably be helpful. HR should have processes for dealing with inappropriate behavior of all sorts.
Outside of HR and official processes, addressing what seems to be blatant sexism - especially from your boss with the added power dynamic - can be especially difficult because its visibility makes it appear to be widely accepted. Any discomfort by those witnessing it can remain hidden, further encouraging the inappropriate behavior. Or if the offender is unaware of his (or her) sexism, the opportunity is missed to address it. At best, you hope that your boss’s behavior and apparent biases are subconscious.
One less official approach is to work with your colleagues to amplify each other’s ideas. This approach was used perhaps most famously in the Obama White House and has since been used in numerous offices. When one of you voices an idea, and it is ignored or downplayed, someone else can voice agreement with the idea, attributing it to the person who originally mentioned it and adding supporting thoughts.
The second less official approach involves speaking up - either in the actual meeting or in a private conversation with your boss - to say, for instance, that the same people have been asked to clean out the fridge in the past, and you’d like to institute a system so that these types of tasks can be shared more equally among staff. You can offer to create a schedule or ask the group to do so. Depending on the mood of the room, you could try lightheartedly pointing out that it’s been all women doing these tasks. Such a discussion could potentially open the door for more direct conversations in the future.