Fighting Sexism in the Office

Article Contributed by Mackenzie Fox

Office sexism, otherwise known as occupational sexism includes all discriminatory actions and statements that are based on employees’ gender. You have probably watched ‘Mad Men’ wondering if such office sexism is possible in these modern days. Unfortunately, sexism at work still exists, despite the fact that most people don’t want to acknowledge its presence. Sometimes, the signs are so subtle that people who are not directly involved in such discrimination won’t even notice it. Office sexism refers to a wide variety of discriminatory practices both visible and latent. However, their source is the same: gender stereotypes.

Not surprisingly, the victims of office sexism are mostly women, trying to make it in a men’s world. The faces of sexism are many – from pay gap and slow career advancement, to extreme and aggressive behaviours such as sexual harassment. Here’s how to recognise sexism in the office – and fight it by any means necessary.

Earning less money for the same amount of work

Gender pay gap is a term you have probably heard of – it’s defined as the average difference between men’s and women’s hourly earnings. Women earn approximately $0.70 to a man’s dollar and this remains unchanged. There are several opinions on why this gap exists, and they usually revolve around different job and education choices (‘female jobs’ are less paid by the hour). Also, highest-paying jobs and top positions are usually reserved for men. How can we fix this? One factor that has been mentioned is less willingness of women to discuss a raise. So, don’t miss the chance to negotiate your salary and raise and be well-informed on the average salary for your position.

You can’t make a progress and enter the boy’s club

Certain jobs are generally perceived as ‘male’ and when a woman tries to make a career in them, she can face lots of resistance and skepticism. Some people are convinced that particular jobs are not suitable for women and they are willing to obstruct them on their way to getting those jobs. In extreme cases, it can lead to mobbing and bullying just because you don’t want to give up on your ambition. Think of the jobs in IT, engineering, management and others that are traditionally male. Although women are perfectly capable of advancing in them, they are still denied full access – not obviously, of course, but through sex-based hiring and promotion.

What’s your office persona: are you Cinderella, honey, a mom, or all of the above?

Even if you’re doing the same job as your male colleagues, it’s likely that people will expect you to take notes on meetings, bring coffee, or clean up after everyone. In addition, you might put up with some really unpleasant and unethical questions during the promotion or hiring interview. You might be asked about your child care plans or perceived as less ambitious just because you decided to go on a maternity leave. Be prepared that your attitudes will be disputed and

perceived as irrational just because they’re coming from a ‘baby-brain’ or if you’re in PMS. Also, the statistics show that beautiful women don’t get many manly jobs and their appearance is often evaluated by the male colleagues – sometimes right in their faces.

Can we fight it?

What makes it so hard to fight sexism? The standards are often double and gender stereotypes so deep that it’s quite difficult to get rid of them. The sexism exists in all aspects of our lives and what we see at work is just one part of a much bigger problem. In an ideal world, you could solve this problem by being assertive and calling out unethical and sexist behavior but it’s not that simple. You might benefit from a bold approach if your colleagues are not being aware of their latent sexism – they can even apologize and admit their mistakes. However, in a systemically sexist environment, you’ll likely face a backlash, especially if you confront your managers.

So, how can we shut down the office sexism?

This depends on the type of sexism you’re dealing with and the person you need to confront. If the office rule is that you need to wear makeup and high heels to look professional there’s not much you can do – adjust to the situation, write a petition, or simply find a job where you’ll fit in. If you’re dealing with an individual sexist who’s not above you, a situation becomes a bit easier. Sexual harassment is sanctioned, but subtle inappropriate comments might go unnoticed. When facing with such comments or degrading tasks that are given to you, simply ask for the explanation. Try the assertive approach and keep calm to avoid being accused as overemotional – and don’t forget to include the HR department.

Have in mind that change won’t come overnight and that discrimination is something that we need to fight together in order to beat it!

About your Guest Blogger: Mackenzie is a self-employed mom of two. She was fed up with the corporate culture and decided to quit it. Being her own boss is right up her alley. She considers her home office as her sanctuary. You can catch up with her on Twitter.