It is no secret that sexism in the workplace is still a problem. While there are obvious forms of misogyny and sex discrimination at work, sometimes it is not so apparent.
It’s the #MeToo and #TimesUp era and it feels empowering and like “it’s about damn time.” It also feels relentless; the headlines are salacious and grotesque, and seeming to come at us ever faster. Like a snowball rolling downhill.
Having to listen to male students make sexist and misogynistic remarks about my clothes or my looks while I’m teaching English literature. They think I can’t hear them but I can.
Casual misogyny that is hardly, if ever, noticed because it is so ingrained that is practiced by both men and women. It does not rise to the level of harassment but creates the environment that allows harassment to exist.
Even subtle sexism may be so persistent that it creates a hostile work environment. Here are some examples of subtle gender and sex discrimination in the workplace.
1. Expectations of stereotypical tasks
Some employers expect women to accomplish certain job duties, such as answering the phone, filling out paperwork, getting coffee or setting up meetings. A boss may tell a female worker to accomplish these secretarial tasks even if they are not relevant to her job.
2. Descriptive biases
Many people automatically assume women are sensitive, emotional and caring. While these are not necessarily negative characteristics, they can have harmful consequences for women who work in positions that are usually held by men. For example, a male employer may say that a woman does not fit into a particular role because he assumes she has stereotypical traits and is not strong enough to handle a leadership role.
3. Negative comments about feminism
Feminism is a term that has many negative connotations. Some people view feminists as intolerant, aggressive and bitter. This inaccurate stereotype often makes its way into workplaces, where some people will make derogatory comments about feminism and feminists.
4. Constant interruptions while talking
Sometimes men feel like it is okay to interrupt women while they are speaking. Men cutting off women mid-conversation can be annoying at best, but if it is a consistent problem, it may contribute to a hostile work environment. This behavior is common and often overlooked, but is a serious issue.
While these may not be the absolute worst examples of sex discrimination, they are still important to talk about and confront.
And once you start paying attention, you see it everywhere.
It’s on display when two people with similar experience are hired for similar roles at the same time and compensation comes back with a lower salary for the woman, with no rationale for why that is the case.
It’s on display when two colleagues with the same title and similar responsibilities and tenure are assigned offices, and the man gets the bigger one. And when a new department head is hired and she is given an office smaller than the one used by a male direct report.
It’s on display when the female head of the business unit gives all the credit for a new pricing initiative to the man on the team, even though it was clearly a team effort. The other team members are all women.
It’s on display when a young woman is in the middle of giving a presentation, when her male co-worker cuts her off in order to offer his two cents.
A Personal Experience
I would like to quote my teacher, Amna Rashid over her who serves as Assistant Professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations, and Co-Director Centre for Human Rights and Justice at UMT. She received her LLB from University of London in 2011, and an LLM from Columbia University in 2015. Notably, she is a Fulbright Scholar and a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar at Columbia School of Law.
A day earlier, she shared her experience on her face book profile. Having to listen to male students and faculty members make sexist and misogynistic remarks about her clothes or her appearance, she voiced her opinion saying;
The examples above, all real, show a continuum of misogyny that starts when a woman first gets hired and continues throughout her career, in how she is positioned in a company to how success is attributed.
So, what to do?
Yes, your workplace is sexist. Let’s laugh/cry together while figuring out what we can do about it.
It is very difficult to change habits and entrenched modes of thinking, and I am not proposing that we go on constant alert (this never works anyway, as people revert back to their natural behavior and tendencies pretty quickly).
But I think that there’s a simple way to start making a dent.
Find Allies in the Workplace
If there are other women in the office, speak to them about their own experiences. How are they feeling? Resigned? Alienated? If it’s clear that there’s a deeper issue with company culture, it’s worth bringing up to your HR department. Even if your experiences are different, it helps to discuss things with coworkers, especially if they’ve had more experience in the industry or have been working at the company longer. It puts things in perspective. Speaking to other women also means you’ll have someone more objective to consider your problems it’s easy to feel like you’re being overly sensitive when you’re one woman facing a fraternity-style workplace.
HR: That’s What They’re There For
HR doesn’t need to be a last resort. In fact, they’re there for advice so consult them. It doesn’t hurt to bring these items up in meetings with your boss either, especially during an annual or performance review if it’s a long-term overarching issue in the work environment. It helps to present a possible solution when you bring up such a touchy problem. If you feel like women aren’t getting adequate representation in your office, suggest organizing a women’s panel/organization that meets monthly or that your company implement a training or mentorship program for women to combat the inequality and improve office culture.
Like I said, none of these are going to smash the patriarchy with the sheer force of verbal repartee. And these strategies aren’t sufficient for sexual harassment, which is a crime–they are intended for occasional, low-level comments that make your workplace unpleasant.