Updated: Sep 4, 2020
Society has made great progress when it comes to embracing feminism and demanding more equality. An increased awareness of sexism in society has facilitated this improvement; the recent #MeToo movement has shed light on widespread discrimination across many industries, characterised by examples of blatant sexism and sexual harassment.
However, this is far from achieving gender equality. There are still many ongoing practices of sexism in the workplace, particularly in male-dominated industries, a lot of which are far more subtle and remain unnoticed. Gender inequality manifests itself in many forms in the workplace and beyond, from making snide jokes or comments, referred to as ‘casual sexism’, to the gender pay gap and sexual harassment, or ‘overt sexism’.
Sexist attitudes in the workplace
A poll for the Young Women’s Trust found that 15% of females aged between 16 and 30 have been sexually harassed at work but only 8% of victims has reported it. Additionally, almost a third of young women reported sex discrimination while working or looking for work, and one in five said that they are paid less than their male colleagues for the same or similar employment.
Moreover, a New York Times report on pregnancy discrimination found that, after controlling for experience, education, marital status, and hours worked, each child reduces a woman’s hourly wage by 4%, while men’s earnings increase by 6% when they become fathers.
In the case of ‘casual sexism’, such as mansplaining or men having more time to voice their opinions in meetings, situations might be so embedded in office culture that they are often overlooked. According to an HBR report, women tend to receive vague feedback in performance reviews (such as ‘you had a great year’). Lack of detailed feedback in turn deprives women of the opportunity for promotions. Reviews also have sexist remarks; men receive much clearer developmental feedback about technical skills related to the job whereas women were more likely to be critiqued on their ‘communication style’. For example, the phrase ‘too aggressive’ appeared nearly three times as much in women’s reviews.
So, what exactly should you do if you are experiencing sexism or know someone who is? Some companies may have women’s networks in place to aid and address the problem of discrimination. It is important to make use of these networks. If you are experiencing workplace sexism it can help to find allies, who you can talk to and get an objective view of your situation. If it is clear that there is a deeper issue with the company culture, it is important to bring it up to the HR department.
There are ways to preserve your anonymity if you are concerned with retaliation, such as a private conversation with HR or submitting an anonymous report.
What we can do
Firstly, companies need to also be more proactive in promoting gender equality. For example, educating and bringing attention to stereotypes; this is especially important since people are not always actively aware of their biases and how they are influencing their decisions. Thus, raising more awareness on this will help employees to scrutinize their behaviour more carefully, and in turn prevent the tendency to stereotype.
It is also important to vouch for the competence of female leaders in the company by bringing attention to their successes – this will help to create more representation and highlight the ability of women.
In addition, a key part of the issue of sexism is actually acknowledging that there is a problem. Not everyone agrees that workplace sexism is still rife. Lack of awareness makes the issue harder to address, especially if a company has an inadequate gender equity policy in place. Although there is a growing number of men acknowledging that workplace sexism is an issue, in order to achieve greater respect and equality, men also need to be more vocal about demanding it.