By Nina Chatzistergiou,
Sexism, prejudice or discrimination based on one’s gender. It is a phenomenon that can affect anyone, but primarily appears to be targeted towards women and girls. It has been linked to stereotypes about gender roles and is often based on the belief that one gender is superior to the other.
It is a touchy and uncomfortable subject, it is usually preferred to be addressed in a more “diplomatic” way, because victims of it tend to become afraid of what will follow if they speak their mind freely. It is common for sexism to arise in a workplace environment and though it is often connected to sexual harassment, it is not necessarily that. If you think of how usual it is for sexism to lead to people being unemployed, it is a huge waste of valuable human resources. Women are shut out from senior positions, or undermined by being objectified and having to endure sexist comments based on gender and looks. This of course leads to a social stigma of sorts, which consequently has lead to men being wrongly treated, when working under female supervision sometimes.
Sexist behaviour and practices tend to be normalized quite often in the workplace, making the frequency of them harder to notice and leading to employee performance being negatively affected, as well as their mental health, work satisfaction and sense of belonging at a place that they spend several hours a day.
It is concerning that people are not perceived as human beings, “homo sapiens” as they all are, and have to endure being stigmatized based on their gender. Comments being directed to women concerning how they look and how they should look or just them talking to male employees being seen as being too friendly, instead of just being polite. Human beings are bound to interact, but when sexism enters the equation, performance stops being the top priority when assessing employees, and people get judged according to gender.
If we want to address facts, in practice, it is a bit difficult to paint a clear picture of what constitutes as sexism and create an environment where people regardless of their gender feel free to voice their concerns. This does not constitute a valid excuse to omit the subject though. Modern hierarchical and multicultural environments are expected to address the issue as an important challenge and allow victims of it to be properly represented. This is due to the fact that everyday sexism, whether intentional or not, is very often present in workplace interactions, policies and systems in general. Gender discrimination affects ultimately organizational culture as well as personal careers.
The most common way of everyday sexism is “jokes”, that of course are nothing but camouflaged insults aimed at women most frequently, but men also sometimes. This consists of sexist remarks and jokes based on gender. This can be either directed to women, “Watch how you do that, you may break a fingernail”, being a relatively small example. Or men, for example: “Show her who wears the pants around here!” The fact that women have to endure sexism more often in the workplace, does not mean that men do not get subjected to it, too.
But what can a victim of everyday sexism do about it, when the system does not protect them?
The first step is not to validate that kind of behavior by laughing it off, if it is sexist and offensive, then call it out on the spot. This does not have to result in shouting or conflict, you just have to understand that it is your right to speak your mind when offended by something, if not on the spot, then later on when you feel more comfortable to do so. Another way to address the issue is to reframe the discussion when a sexist remark arises, anytime assessed as “too bossy”, “too friendly”, “too whiny or soft”, do not let it go, but rather than that take up an active position in the discussion and give your own description.
Bottom line, there is no arguing that all people should be treated equally. A workplace is meant to be a safe space for both women and men to get their job done. Sexism against any gender in the workplace should be met with strict consequences. The effects of occupational sexism can stick with a person for a lifetime, so it’s important that every person helps to bring an end to its existence.
Sexism In The Workplace: Why It’s Time For A Change. Available here.
Sexism at work. Available here.
Six common manifestations of everyday sexism at work. Available here.