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