Eighty-four per­cent of peo­ple say sex­ual ha­rass­ment goes down in the work­place to­day. Here’s how to #SayNoToSex­ism

Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - GET INTO IT -

Big com­pa­nies such as IBM took solid strikes to cor­rect gen­der pay gaps and im­ple­ment fe­male-friendly paid-leave poli­cies. Hard­charg­ing women (yasss, Shonda Rhimes and Spanx founder Sara Blakely!) had seem­ingly cleared a path for oth­ers to reach the top.

Then came story af­ter story of out­landish male work­place mis­be­haviour and crim­i­nal acts – and an Oc­to­ber so­cial-me­dia phe­nom­e­non, in which mil­lions of women shared sex­ual-ha­rass­ment sto­ries un­der the hash­tag #MeToo, proved ass grab­bing (and worse) isn’t just hap­pen­ing in the US.

The ex­plo­sive head­lines mask another truth: gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion at work is more per­va­sive than bathrobes and back rubs. It also thrives via soft sex­ism – say, when a male boss sug­gests you’re PMS-ing when you dis­agree with him, or when your doc­tor calls his fe­male nurse ‘honey’. Soft sex­ism is not nec­es­sar­ily in­ten­tional – and women par­tic­i­pate too. How many times have you heard fe­male co-work­ers call an HBIC ‘crazy’ while brush­ing off a male man­ager’s sim­i­larly diva-ish be­hav­iour be­cause ‘ That’s just Steve’? Women are raised in the same bi­ased cul­ture as men are, caus­ing them to in­ter­nalise – and some­times sub­con­sciously act on – gen­dered dou­ble stan­dards, says Ros­alind Bar­nett, a se­nior sci­en­tist at the Women’s Stud­ies Re­search Cen­ter at Bran­deis Univer­sity. But sub­con­scious or not, soft sex­ism’s ef­fects are just as de­struc­tive as overt gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to re­search in the Jour­nal Of Man­age­ment.

Get­ting left out of af­ter-work drinks, hav­ing your idea ca­su­ally stolen, be­ing un­der­es­ti­mated be­cause you’re at­trac­tive…

At irst, things were look­ing woke last year.

These things can crush your chances of get­ting ahead. En­try-level women are nearly 20% less likely to be pro­moted than their male peers are, ac­cord­ing to a new study by and McKin­sey & Com­pany. ‘Women ac­tu­ally start their ca­reer more op­ti­mistic than men that they’ll have equal op­por­tu­ni­ties,’ says Ur­sula Mead, founder and CEO of InHerSight, a plat­form that helps to match fe­male job can­di­dates with com­pa­nies that pro­mote gen­der equal­ity. ‘But by the time they reach se­nior level, less than a third of women are sat­is­fied that they have equal op­por­tu­nity.’

The so­lu­tion, say ex­perts, lies in mak­ing this ev­ery­one’s prob­lem. ‘When women are de­meaned in the work­place, they can­not per­form at their best, and the en­tire team suf­fers,’ says Bar­nett. ‘Now more than ever, we need male al­lies to speak up and take ac­tion,’ adds El­iz­a­beth Nya­ma­yaro, head of the United Na­tions’ HeForShe cam­paign. Of course, this needs to be paired with up­dated poli­cies, says founder and Face­book COO Sh­eryl Sandberg: ‘Bias train­ing can help men and women see more clearly all the big and lit­tle ways in which women can be over­looked, un­der­val­ued or mis­treated.’

If you’re a boss your­self, look for op­por­tu­ni­ties to men­tor women: re­search shows that fe­male em­ploy­ees re­ceive less of this kind of sup­port than men do. Get­ting more women into lead­er­ship po­si­tions is ul­ti­mately the best way to change the sys­tem, says Nya­ma­yaro. In the mean­time, watch out for – and call out – soft sex­ism at your job. And if no-one thinks to in­vite you to af­ter-work beers? In­vite your­self.

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