The Daily Telegraph

Women working at home still victims of old-fashioned office sexism

- By Mike Wright

FEMALE workers are experienci­ng Zoom sexism as more than a third say they have been told to dress more “provocativ­ely” and wear make-up during work meetings.

A survey by Slater and Gordon found that women subjected to “lurid” requests often found them justified by male bosses as a way to “help to win new business”.

The law firm said the poll showed that workplace sexism had found new and “insidious” ways to manifest in the era of lockdown home working.

The survey comes as the Office for National Statistics found that almost half of staff were now working from home in some form once a week, while video-conferenci­ng software, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, has exploded in popularity.

The poll of 2,000 office workers found that 35 per cent of women said they had been subjected to at least one sexist workplace demand. Over a third, 34 per cent, said they had been asked to wear more make-up or work on their hair, while 27 per cent said they had been asked to dress more “sexy” or “provocativ­ely”.

A third of women also said they found it difficult to challenge such sexism as they worried they would look like they “couldn’t take a joke”.

A quarter of women surveyed said they feared their careers would be affected if they did not comply with requests to change their appearance.

When women did challenge sexist comments about their looks, 41 per cent said they found male line managers justifying the request on grounds it would help win new clients or that it was “important to look nicer for the team”. More than a third, 38 per cent, said sexist requests were also explained away as a tactic to please clients.

The law firm said it had hoped there would be a dramatic decline in reports of sexist behaviour as offices closed down, but that sexism had instead found “new and insidious” ways to thrive online.

Danielle Parsons, an employment lawyer with Slater and Gordon, said: “It is categorica­lly wrong for a manager or anyone in a position of power to suggest, even politely, that a woman should be more sexually appealing in the workplace. This is a powerful form of coercion which makes women feel as if they must adhere to the manager’s request and be more visually pleasing in order to be successful at their job. This is demeaning to women.

“It’s extremely disappoint­ing that we are still having these conversati­ons, particular­ly during this time when women are juggling a multitude of roles from home and may be also struggling with childcare responsibi­lities. This type of archaic behaviour has no place in the modern working world.”

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