Tips for addressing low-level sexism in your workplace

The ninth women’s football world cup has kicked off Down Under, promising to break records on many metrics, from number of teams participating to prize money on offer. It still contrasts uncomfortably against the men’s game which dwarfs the tournament by many such measures, though.

It is generally accepted that there has not been, and is still not, a level playing field – metaphorically speaking. Literally, however, this is the first year that FIFA has mandated all matches must be played on grass rather than artificial surfaces – a standard long enforced for the men’s tournament.

The median gender pay gap in the UK stands at 9.4%; in world cup football the difference between the respective prize pots is more like 200% – even though the women’s pot has increased fivefold since the last tournament from $30 million to $152 million. The men’s prize pot stood at $440 million in the 2022 world cup.

The differences may be more stark in the world of sport, but many parallels can still be drawn to workplaces.

Sexism in the workplace

While sexism in the workplace is, in theory, illegal under the Equality Act 2010, it is well-known that it still persists. Parking the legal risk for a moment, there are a host of other reasons to take actions to stamp it out. These include:

  • Attracting the best candidates for your job applications, be they male or female.
  • Ensuring that talented women are not driven away from your business, lowering productivity.
  • Defending against a toxic culture which spreads to discriminating against other protected characteristics, such as race or age.
  • It’s doing the right thing.

Tips for managing sexism in the workplace

There are high-level actions that any business should be taking, such as ensuring equal pay, and that recruitment is conducted fairly. But what about your everyday culture? Letting relatively minor poor behaviour slide could develop into bigger problems.

Here’s a look at a few scenarios which are all too easy to ignore, but could be slowly damaging your workplace culture; and the ability or motivation for women to contribute towards a successful business.

Sexist jokes or comments – Make it clear in written policies that jokes or comments which play on  someone’s sex are not acceptable. If someone makes such a joke or comment, call them out and, if necessary, follow your disciplinary policy. If you missed the moment, revisit it and make sure the perpetrator and audience know your stance.

Ensure everyone has an equal voice – While anyone can be talked over by a dominant personality in meetings, check that women are not being disproportionately impacted. Chair your meetings in a manner which enables everyone’s input to be appreciated. A frequent observation is of a woman’s point being ignored when she makes it, only for it to be endorsed shortly afterwards when proposed by a man.

Empower women to fulfil their role – From being mistaken for a secretary to asking if “a man is available instead”, or perpetuating an expectation that women make the tea, there are many ways in which women can be undermined in their roles. Stand up for your staff, and empower them to do the full job for which you employ them.

Review the language – Words matter. How female staff are introduced; mansplaining; labelling someone “bossy” instead of “assertive”, or “soft” instead of “having emotional intelligence”; can all make it more difficult for women to get on in the workplace.

Involve women in cultural decisions – When you are making decisions about your company culture, ensure you encourage and listen to the viewpoint of women as well as men. This will help you create a workplace which is attractive to all.

Preventing people problems

The HR Dept, can help you create a workplace environment where everyone shines. Our advice will also protect you from tribunal claims, where the average award for sex discrimination in 2021/22 was £24,630 and the maximum award was £184,961.

Crucially, we make sure we tell you what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T. So you can rely on us to help you reach business solutions which work for you. For any help, please contact the HR Dept office.

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