You’ve probably heard the following statistic that on average, men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.We also know that women are more likely to feel like imposters in their roles, and get paid less than men for doing the same job. So the odds are stacked against us, and we have to work twice as hard to prove we are as good at our jobs; and three times harder if you are a woman of colour. We become less and less in number as we rise up through the ranks, and the politics becomes harder and harder to manage. The notion of ‘not being good enough’ increases and we become more aware that we are only ever going to ‘make it’ if we are a certain type of female leader; which, when you consider all the other bullshit that comes with being a female leader, we are completely put off by progressing upwards.
All of this is just ‘a feeling’ of course, because recognising sexism in the workplace is becoming much more difficult. But this doesn’t make it less endemic. Today’s sexism is insidious, sneaky and hard to put a finger on. In fact, it’s so deep seated that men and women are guilty of displaying it, perhaps without even realising it. That’s the trap of the patriarchal structure - it’s a tricksy bastard. But be under no illusions, it is just as damaging as the outward go-and-make-the-tea kind, and perhaps even more so, as it’s much harder to call it out.
As a woman who enjoys the company of male friends, loves sport and laughter - I’ve always been drawn to industries that are male dominated. I can add sport, television and the armed forces to my complicated career path. The triple threat of masculinity! The irony is that I was fairly blind to sexism as a younger woman, but working in these industries has opened up my eyes to the complexities of gender equality and the sheer plight of women in the workplace. And more so, the lack of protection for women in the workplace.
In the future, perhaps we will have legally binding policies in place to ensure that all of our workplaces are equal. But we are absolutely not there yet, not by a long shot. So what can we do to protect ourselves?
We start by sharing our stories. By helping us to recognise patterns, behaviours and collectively working together to put a stop to them using the tools that we have available to us. We must be armed with weapons to take sexism down from the inside, whilst digging deep to find the courage to employ the skills and tactics to protect ourselves in a world that doesn’t particularly give a shit about our safety.
I’ve got some excellent tales from the worlds of rugby player parties, fast car television shows and puffed up men in uniform; but let’s start at the beginning. How do you know if your work environment is sexist? Are you suspicious but not sure? Are you questioning why you feel so uncomfortable? Do you find yourself fake laughing at comments from your superiors? Is your appearance a topic of interest to your boss?
Here’s a handy guide on how to identify sexism in 2019.
You receive backhanded compliments about what you’re wearing.
‘Your shoes are unusual.’ Sure they’re loafers, and Stella McCartney ones at that, but don’t let that get in the way from the expectation that a woman needs to wear a heel to look professional in this MAN’S WORLD.
Your boss refers to ‘pink jobs and blue jobs’.
This is an absolute classic. Cheers Teresa May for perpetuating the gender roles we’ve worked so hard to dispel! People will refer to these types of comments as ‘traditional’ and dismiss it with a little wave, as they would Jacob Rees-Moobs, or, say, the topic of colonialism.
If you don’t wear makeup, you’ll be told you look tired.
You must NEVER let your skin breathe for fear of looking worn out. Because we know for sure that there is no weaker woman than a tired or emotional one.
They’ll expect you to work extra hours and take no lunch break.
Perhaps you’re one of those people who works consistently within your 8.5 hours and will stay late when there’s a big project or deadline. Or perhaps you’re one of those people who fucks around a bit, pretending to look busy at all times, despite being in constant email contact with your fiancee to plan meal times, thus needing to work late to make up for this. I know which one I’d rather be.
You must love the cause but not enough for it to be a hobby.
Because work should be your only hobby and if you have enough time for an actual hobby, are you even working hard enough?
Gossip will circulate around your office like a virus in winter.
Your bosses will use the gossip train as a vehicle to cast doubts about your character and ability. Anyone who's stuck up their butts will do their best to perpetuate whatever tale is the rumour du jour. How very Mean Girls.
You have to pepper your emails with exclamation marks and emojis so as not to sound too direct.
Lacking efficient communication will make you much more approachable and won’t ruffle any feathers. It also won’t make anyone feel as though they have to do their job in order for you to do yours.
The only leadership styles that are responded to are either passive aggressive or straight up aggressive.
Listen you guys, women can only be leaders if they either behave like ‘a man’ in the toxic masculinity sense; the bully boy, straight talking, takes control) or if they employ manipulative ‘women’ tactics, such as bitching and manipulation with a side of smiley face emoji.
Your boss will want to know what you’re doing at all times and then accuse you of needing ‘hand holding’.
The most effective method of management is the micro kind. This is a sign that your boss doesn't actually understand what it is that you do and therefore regular reporting of your workload is necessary in order to prove to their bosses that you are actually doing things.
It’s Friday. On your to-do list of 32 tasks that your boss has given to you on a Tuesday afternoon, you’ve missed something.
In the spirit of prioritising deadlines you have missed something smaller off the list. You can guarantee that it will become huge because you’ve missed it and it will definitely affect everyone in the office. But ,despite its importance, it had no deadline and your boss will absolutely not have chased you up on it because you cannot be chased by the boss. You can of course chase your boss every 10 minutes for not doing the thing that your role is dependent on. Also, if you’ve got 32 things on your to do list, why aren’t you staying late?
If, heaven forfend, you need to have a meeting outside of the office, you will need to check in before, afterwards and potentially during.
The second most effective method of management is to show a consistent lack of trust. Women have to EARN trust, as they are not natural workers. Their head is too full of boys and babies. Oh and they talk too much.
There is no HR.
Because there is no place in this organisation for humans or indeed resource.
You cry in the toilet.
No wonder you look so tired!
You’re a bit confused as to what exactly the problem is here.
Classic gaslighting. You’re the problem here, obviously.
You start to feel as though you’re in an emotionally controlling relationship.
Gaslighting, micro management, lack of trust, subtle put downs and the expectation to slap a face on and slip into your best dress are all textbook features of an emotionally controlling relationship.
Now you've had this run down, perhaps you're asking why you are allowing this to happen at work. But here’s the thing. We all let it happen, because we don’t know what to do about it. I work in an office that’s 90% women, yet the sexism I encounter on a daily basis is worse than I worked with 30 men. Women and men can be entirely guilty of displaying patriarchal attitudes within the workplace without even really realising it. But here's some advice. Doing a good job is not dependent on how you look or how you dress, what your personal preferences outside of the workplace are (unless they are illegal, in which case that will most likely negatively impact all areas of your life ), or how many extra hours you put in. These are all things that can be directly attributed to control, or lack thereof, depending on how competent your boss is. And never, ever forget that you are only as good as your boss allows you to be. So if you're not being upskilled, or developed, or if you're experiencing any of the treatment outlined above then you can almost certainly guarantee you're in a toxic working environment. And that my ladies, comes from sexism. Let’s start by sharing our stories so we can find common ground and recognise when it’s time to send out an SOS.
Well hello there. I'm Sian. Writer, communications professional, yoga teacher and loud, proud, intersectional feminist. I enjoy long walks, a glass of very pale pinot blush (or three), and dismantling the patriarchy through a unique blend of subtle humour and not-so-subtle finger pointing. When not working as a jack of all trades and master of none, I can mostly be found chasing cats down the street, desperately trying to get them to be my friend.