Tell-tale signs of sexism in the workplace
While the equal rights of all Australians, regardless of age, colour, creed, sexual orientation or gender, are enshrined within our laws, subtle forms of institutionalised misogyny – aka ‘soft sexism’ – remain alive and well in the workplace. How many of the following five forms of both covert and/or more blatant sexism exist within your workplace?
1) Stereo-type tasks that entrench the notion that ‘it’s a man’s world’: Joan Williams, the co-author of What Works for Women at Work claims key stereotypes to watch out for are the expectations that women are OK with being assigned office housework, or more menial tasks, like taking notes in meetings, mentoring junior colleagues, answering the phones, filling out paperwork and making the coffee.
For example, is it implied that women will assume the dominant role when it comes to office kitchen duties, plus other chores and do they feel obliged and/or pressured to play this role?
2) Women underrepresented in senior ranks: Admittedly, some professions and occupations, like engineering, mining and the police have historically been skewed towards men, and continue to remain so. But given that women make up around 36 percent of full-time employees, their presence in the boardroom and C-suite management roles remains largely underrepresented.
Recent data from around 4 million employees compiled by the federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency found that women make up 26.1 percent of key management, while a whopping third of companies in Australia had no women in key management jobs at all.
While it is steadily increasing, in June 2016, the percentage of women on ASX 200 boards was still only 23.4 percent.
3) Pay and super gap: According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time average weekly earnings of women (at 1 February 2018) is 15.3 percent lower than the $1,662.70 paid to men. While the pay gap is least noticeable within the public administration/safety and other services sectors – where’s it 6.8 percent – it is widest within the financial and insurances services sector where it’s a massive 26.1 percent.
This pay gap is partly responsible for a significant gender disparity when it comes to superannuation. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data (2013-14) reveals that at retirement age, men’s average super balance is $322,000 compared with 45 percent less ($180,000) for women.
4) Sexual harassment: According to the Human Rights Commission, one in five women experience physical or verbal sexual harassment in the workplace at some time. Worst case examples include unwelcomed advances, while other more subtle forms of sexual harassment include everything from inappropriate remarks, being perved on, catcalls, and other inappropriate behaviour.
5) Being overlooked for promotion: It’s not uncommon for male bosses to be accused of running a ‘sausage factory’ when males are repeatedly favoured for promotion over their female counterparts. While ‘soft sexism’ in the promotion-stakes can be hard to substantiate, women can be overlooked due to any number reasons. One of the biggest issues for women when it comes to promotion is the perceived ‘maternity risk’. Then there’s the pressure on bosses of disrupting the ‘mates club’ culture within the company by hiring women within its higher ranks.
How to combat sexism when you see it?
The good news is that due to the ‘Me Too’ momentum worldwide, fuelled by high profile Hollywood sex scandals, it’s easier for whistleblowers to stand up and be counted. Here in Australia, new whistleblower measures mean women (or anyone) who may have previously feared victimisation by management or fellow employees for speaking out, is now empowered to escalate concerns without [negative] consequence.
In light of Australia’s ground-breaking whistleblower laws, you should seek clarification from your boss on the company’s whistleblower policy, plus a formal reporting mechanism allowing whistleblowers to accelerate their concerns to an independent third party.
Ten steps for combatting sexism at work
1) Challenge questionable decisions that favours men over women.
2) Know you rights, and understand the best way to uphold them.
3) Garner support from female and male colleagues.
4) Accelerate unacceptable behaviour to an immediate superior.
5) Seek clarification on how and why promotions were made.
6) Question the rationale behind pay disparities.
7) Do not agree to any unreasonable requests.
8) Be professional about any complaints you make.
9) Report and immediately shut-down unwelcomed advances.
10) Record dates and time of incidences for future reference.