Sexism at work: How can we stop it?

Sexism at the workplace

Sexism at work is unfortunately still a widespread phenomenon in our society. Inequality between men and women, sexual aggression and violence are realities that employees face on a daily basis. To fight against this scourge, several steps can be taken by employers and associations fighting against sexism.

First of all, raising awareness among employees is essential to understand the risks linked to sexism and its consequences on health and professional life. In France, training and prevention days can be organised to assess sexist behaviour and eliminate it.

Investigating the reality of gender-based violence in the workplace is also important to assess inequalities and risks for employees. A survey can be carried out to report on the situation and implement preventive actions.

Silence in the face of gender-based violence is often a risk for the victims. It is therefore important to break this silence by encouraging employers to fight sexism and take measures to prevent sexual violence. The establishment of a company code of conduct can be a guide for employers and employees to understand and prevent unacceptable behaviour.

Finally, sexist jokes and harassing behaviour should be considered as sexual violence and treated accordingly. Employers must therefore take into account the rights of employees and act accordingly to combat sexism.

In sum, combating sexism at work is a necessary step towards improving working conditions and promoting equal rights for all employees, regardless of gender. It is therefore time to put a stop to sexist behaviour and to take concrete action to prevent sexual violence in the workplace.

What is ordinary sexism at work?

Occupational sexism is a type of discrimination in the workplace based on a person’s gender. Sexist behaviour is based on outdated stereotypes of gender roles in society.

It can manifest itself in different ways, but in particular through inappropriate comments, judgements and even the types of tasks assigned specifically to women.

→ Here are some examples of what sexism can look like:

  • Offensive humour : Sexism can look like offensive humor (It was just a joke!). As inappropriate sexist remarks are communicated in the form of a joke, it can decrease the likelihood of confrontation.
  • Generational differences : The clash of generations or the rhetoric of “In my day…”.
  • Marginalisation : Inappropriate words, toxic attitudes, preconceptions and actions that exclude, marginalise or hurt women.
  • Devaluation : Unspoken or insidious actions that destabilise, delegitimise or devalue women’s skills, or even belittle them by consciously or unconsciously making them inferior.
  • Mansplaining : Condescending and patronising explanations or communications from men. The assumption is that women do not understand a concept or situation.
  • Inappropriate comments : These may include comments about the body or physical and intellectual abilities.
  • Misogyny : Attitudes or thoughts that downplay gender equality and suggest that feminism has no place in our society.
  • Biased questions: Questions that refer to sexist and gender-based biases. Questioning women’s choices simply because they are women.

Sexism as a specific form of violence

Sexism can have more or less long-term devastating consequences, not only for the individual concerned but also for the cohesion of the entire organisation.

The short-term consequences of sexism: devaluation and avoidance strategies

The #StOpE barometer reveals that sexist manifestations have a devastating impact on employees. 95% of the women and 90% of the men surveyed admitted that these acts made them feel more insecure and undermined their self-confidence.

Victims are often confronted with doubts about their competence, feel uncomfortable and are driven to adopt avoidance strategies.

The figures are even more disturbing, as according to a study conducted by the CSA in 2016, 50% of women had to change their style of dress to escape sexist comments.

Longer-term consequences: the internalisation of gender stereotypes

Sexism contributes to devaluing and even demeaning images of women’s position in society. It perpetuates gender stereotypes and even justifies inequality and sexist and sexual violence. Moreover, it reinforces male self-centredness and fosters a hostile atmosphere among women, according to the HCE analysis.

When we limit ourselves to a narrow dichotomy between masculine and feminine, we make women suffer. The data from the #StOpE barometer shows that women face additional obstacles in their professional lives because of these stereotypes.

In the professional world, women are often confronted with inequality and prejudice based on their gender. The evidence is alarming: almost half of women (44%) have experienced discriminatory treatment compared to their male colleagues.

Disparaging remarks about their leadership are unfortunately not uncommon, and 75% have heard degrading comments associated with motherhood.

These are also reflected in the limitations encountered in their careers, such as unpaid raises and promotions: 52% of women feel that they have already faced certain limitations in their careers because of their gender (unpaid raises/awards: 37%, unpaid promotions: 31%).

It is important to note that sexism does not only affect women. About 4 out of 10 men have heard negative comments about their gender based on stereotypes of masculinity and fatherhood.

What can be done about sexism at work?

It is essential to take action against sexist remarks and behaviour to eradicate it from the corporate culture. It is also important for everyone, not just women, to speak out against sexism. Here are some strategies for dealing with ordinary sexism:

  • Ask the question “What is your perspective on this issue?” to highlight the person’s inconsistent or offbeat approach (in case of sexism directed at you).
  • Don’t be afraid to speak out and stand up for the person who is the target of sexism (when you witness it).
  • Establish rigorous standards of professional conduct to eradicate sexist comments and behaviour (as an employer).
  • Point out situations where judgement criteria are not fair. Discuss sexist practices and policies with management.
  • You have the right to rebel and you don’t have to remain silent. Denounce clearly deliberate sexist acts and attitudes.

In conclusion, sexism is a persistent problem in our society. Although progress has been made in raising awareness of gender equality and combating gender stereotypes, there is still a long way to go to completely eliminate sexism. This requires the commitment of all segments of society, including individuals, businesses and governments, to promote gender equality and break down the systemic barriers that impede women’s rights and opportunities. Only a joint effort can help build a more just and equitable society for all.

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