“At least she has a job”- but is she fulfilling her potential? The dangers of work sexism and how to end it

Sofia Lopez Simpson is a second year International Relations student. Her hobbies and interests include playing the guitar and spending hours making spotify playlists.

Last week I had a conversation with someone who refused to accept the pervasive presence of discrimination faced by women in the workplace, “at least she has a job; we should worry about the people without a job, not women being unhappy where they work ”, they said. I was deeply angered by this statement and proceeded to realize how little people know- or quite frankly, cared to know- about violence against women in the workplace.

The discrimination of women in their workplaces based solely on their sex is nothing new and there are still many things that have to be done to eradicate this. Although it is difficult to identify and pinpoint exactly what sexism entails with it not always being visible, the Council of Europe states that sexism within the workplace can take various forms. These could be “derogatory comments, objectification, sexist humor or jokes, overfamiliar remarks, silencing or ignoring people, gratuitous comments about dress and physical appearance, sexist body language, lack of respect and masculine practices which intimidate or exclude women and favour men.” This article will look at the different negative impacts work sexism has on women and what can be done to battle it.

One of the most discernible negative impacts of sexism at work is that it makes it difficult for women to reach senior positions. The gender pay gap is based on the difference in average hourly pay rate between women and men. According to the ONS in 2018, statistics within the UK show that although it had decreased since 2013, the gender pay gap was still a shocking percentage of 9.1%. This is problematic for many reasons, not least because it feeds into the increasing economic inequality. One may argue that the inequality in pay could be due to men holding more senior positions than women; however, this is precisely part of the problem as there is a lack of women in senior positions as a cause of social reproduction and the common belief that women belong in “feminine skills”. The system is not constructed in such a way that allows equal access for women to evolve and move onto higher positions. Also, it can be argued that policies in the field of social reproduction are designed to hinder women. In 2016, the UK reported that 41% of women work part-time and only 12% of men work part-time. With part time jobs are proportionally lower paid than full time jobs, it greatly reduces women’s chances to receive senior positions in their jobs.

Sexism at work has a strong psychological toll on women. Firstly, the lack of support for women to become leaders is arguably caused by male dominance in specific working roles. Louise O’Shea from Confused.com explained how oftentimes it can be intimidating to walk into a masculine environment and culture and how changes have to be made for there to be further progress in gender equality. This environment leads women to feel a lack of belonging which could likely lead to “imposter syndrome”, whereby they would question their self-worth and be increasingly doubtful as to whether they are worthy of the position they are taking, or even if they are a good fit for the company in the first place. 

However, the fight for gender equality at work is ongoing and women are determined for there to be significant improvements across a range of areas whereby women are treated in a disproportionately negative manner in comparison to their male counterparts. In 2021, Riot Games, also known for creating the game League of Legends, was taken to court; the final verdict meant that they had to pay $80m to California state agencies and more than 2000 female employees. This lawsuit was filed in 2018 due to gender discrimination, harassment, and unequal pay. Although the agreement was initially meant to be approved only in 2022, the state of California’s civil rights agency, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), believes this to be a “historical agreement” that could encourage other companies to follow suit and empower women in all industries, particularly the gaming industry in this context. Moreover, this allows women to speak up and feel less afraid to voice their concerns regarding discriminatory practices in their workplace. 

There are other different approaches one can take to eradicate gender-based violence in the workplace. Firstly, the working environment according to Louise O’Shea should be “somewhere that nurtured her and where she could help women”. Governments need to put forth and impose laws that allow for the normalization of social reproduction and allow for better maternity and paternity leave policies; this is important as extended paternity leave for men would allow them to fully support their partners. With the Covid-19 pandemic, hybrid working has become more common and women can take care of their children while also not prejudicing their economic and social well being. Other ways to combat sexism at work would include educating oneself, challenging common misogynistic beliefs and empowering women in the workplace through workshops and targeted seminars.

The ongoing mistreatment of women in the workplace feeds into the broader belittling of women that needs to be eradicated;  workplaces should also support women to reach their full potential in a multitude of ways. The European Commission passed a diversity and inclusion strategy in 2017 and the nine EU Justice and Home Affairs agencies published a diversity and inclusion statement in 2019. However, without structural and organisational change to end rooted gender stereotypes in society, little can be made in terms of further progress .

Bibliography

“Work Sexism: Women ‘Not Supported’ to Be Business Leaders.” BBC News. BBC, February 7, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-60245709. 

“What Is the Impact of Sexism at Work?” European Institute for Gender Equality, November 10, 2020. https://eige.europa.eu/publications/sexism-at-work-handbook/part-1-understand/what-impact-sexism-work. 

“Interrupting Sexism at Work: What Drives Men to Respond Directly or Do Nothing? (Report).” Catalyst, December 22, 2021. https://www.catalyst.org/reports/interrupting-sexism-workplace-men/. 

“Riot Games to Pay $100m to Settle Gender Discrimination Lawsuit.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, December 28, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/games/2021/dec/28/riot-games-to-pay-100m-to-settle-gender-discrimination-lawsuit. 

“How to Confront Sexism at Work: Our Favorite Reads.” Harvard Business Review, October 13, 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/09/how-to-confront-sexism-at-work-our-favorite-reads. 

“Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome.” Harvard Business Review, November 22, 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women-they-have-imposter-syndrome. 

“The Real Reasons behind the Gender Pay Gap.” Timewise, September 30, 2021. https://timewise.co.uk/article/article-real-reasons-behind-gender-pay-gap/. 

[Feature image sourced from Dreamstime.]

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