Sexism is less favourable treatment of someone based on their gender. Statistically this is more likely to affect women and is often more subtle than inappropriate comments or direct sexual harassment. Even today the glass ceiling still exists and women are under-represented in many industries. Despite a gradually narrowing pay gap, the Office of National Statistics found in April 2015 that men working full-time earned £567 per week compared to only £471 for women).
What is workplace sexism?
Some typical examples of sexism are:
- Being paid less than members of the opposite gender doing the same or similar jobs
- Being overlooked for promotions and opportunities based on gender
- Being undervalued, for example being given menial tasks or having suggestions ignored based on your gender
- Derogatory comments being made about one gender
- Being judged based on appearance
- Maternity/Paternity leave not being provided
- Direct sexual harassment including pressure to provide sexual favours in exchange for career progression
Dealing with sexism as an employee
So as an employee, how you should you deal with sexist treatment?
- Don’t suffer in silence – it’s unlikely to go away by itself
- If the sexism is in the form of derogatory comments, and you feel able to do so, explain that they makes you uncomfortable and ask the offender to stop
- Try and approach such a conversation in a neutral way and explain why the comments are unwanted
- If this direct approach doesn’t work then you should raise the issue with your supervisor
- For other issues the first stage is to raise them informally at first with your supervisor or your Human Resources contact
- If this doesn’t work, raise the issue formally – if your employer has a formal grievance procedure, read this and follow the process outlined
If you believe you are being paid less than someone of the opposite gender you should raise a grievance in the first instance. Employees (or ex-employees provided you lodge a claim within 6 months of leaving your job) can claim up to 6 years back pay at an Employment Tribunal. This is a complex area of law and independent legal advice should be sought by anyone who thinks they may be affected by this issue.
Dealing with sexism as an employer
Being seen as a fair, equal opportunities employer will help attract the best employees and get the most out of your workforce.
Developing this culture starts at induction when all new staff should be told what is expected of them and asked to read the company policies which should include and Equal Opportunities policy.
Deal with any issues that arise quickly to avoid escalation. Always aim to be fair and promote a culture where employees are valued and respected in the workplace. Make sure managers know what to do when issues arise, which will involve training rather than just hoping they will make the right decisions.
Women are more likely to work part time and have career gaps because of child care commitments. Try and support maternity leavers by having flexible working arrangements in place, and consider requests for both maternity and paternity leave equally.
Finally, companies who employ 250+ staff will soon be required to measure and publish data on gender pay gaps which is a step towards achieving equal pay. This will increase the focus on all businesses, so smaller companies should actively consider any gender bias in their salary structure and rates of pay and address them sooner rather than later.
Finally, if you are encountering issues and are concerned that they are becoming serious, always seek professional advice before they get out of hand.
Managing Director, Backhouse Solicitors