Sexism In The Workplace: See it. Name it. Stop it. – Qua Skip to content

Sexism In The Workplace: See it. Name it. Stop it.

How do you start your mornings? I start mine by waking up before everyone else, and under the double burden that womanhood bestows upon me, I struggle to get out of bed. After completing the first shift at home, I head to the office, where my parking assistant waits for me to arrive so that he can park my car. He thinks I can't do it. I have been ignoring it since day one, not in the office but on this planet. The doctor said “it's a girl” and my family hid the box of sweets behind their fake smiles. They had their reasons to be sceptical. My mom had the same reasons when we were adopting a puppy, she preferred a male pup, “females have a lot of issues, you know, they will have periods, then they will have to carry the kids”

I attributed all of this to lack of awareness and education, but after joining an office I realised that all along I was just making excuses for the people that I loved. Highly educated and qualified too are infected by sexism. Discrimination is ubiquitous. 

According to a study around 81% of women face occupational sexism. Even the first world countries which gave birth to movements like feminism have 42% statistics. Gender discrimination is treating a particular gender differently and unfairly. Even though it is illegal in the workplace, it is still practiced and tolerated.

Pinpointing Sexism

In the famous series Mad Men, set in the 1960s, we see successful men squandering around the office, flirting with their secretaries, guessing the colours of their underpants. These examples of blatant sexism are troublesome and have given way to more subtle sexism in workplaces currently. Under the lens of misogyny and patriarchy, these small acts are labelled as appropriate, but are they?

Gap in hiring

I can't recall the number of times I sat for an interview and was asked questions about my hobbies and interests, and got my character judged instead of my qualities. It's as if I was sitting for an exam where the teacher wants me to fail.

Many companies reject female contenders just because they have preconceived notions like they are less competent than their male counterparts or the company will have to give them paid maternity leave, they will be more emotional and less rational during their periods, the list seems to be endless.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of facebook says, "We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women's voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored."

Creating invisible barriers

Women have to endure the presence of ‘glass ceilings' which are the invisible barriers hampering the growth of women like you and me to move forward in the hierarchical ladder. They are prevented from receiving promotions, especially to executive rankings. We as women have to prove ourselves to be better just to attain the status of being equal.

Gender pay gap

Justin Mateen, an American entrepreneur, stated that having a female co-founder at Tinder, “makes the company seem like a joke.” Women engineers or founders are reduced to being ‘eye candy’ or just an object to be looked at and commented upon. As they have no real value they aren't paid according to their worth.

Gender pay gap is still a reality even in 2021, where female employees are paid less than male colleagues. It's prevalent in every occupation and should be talked about. According to the Monster Salary Index (MSI) published in March 2019, women in the country earn 19% less than men.

Gendering of language and emotions

We use a language which takes male-as-norm, our entire race is called “mankind”. It might be a small chink but a chink nonetheless. Qualities like being kind, warm and empathetic are attributed to the females. While the male employees are given promotions as they are ambitious, assertive and competitive. 

Meryl Streep, an American actress, says, "No one has ever asked an actor, 'You're playing a strong-minded man.' We assume that men are strong-minded, or have opinions. But a strong-minded woman is a different animal."

Motherhood penalty

My mother used to tell me when she had me she had to leave her job because people at her office started treating her differently. They would just talk to her about me and guilt her into leaving me at home. The working mothers are perceived to have lost their capabilities of being a good addition to the team, leading them to believe that they are supposed to prioritize the needs of dependent children above all other activities.

Amy Poehler, actress, says "I have these meetings with really powerful men and they ask me all the time, 'Where are your kids? Are your kids here?' It's such a weird question. Never in a million years do I ask guys where their kids are. It would be comparable to me going to a guy, 'Do you feel like you see your kids enough?'"

Stereotypes in surroundings

Stereotypes are widely shared beliefs about different traits and beliefs that men and women possess. Once I was travelling to a hill station and I got a female driver and the first question my dad asked her was “Will you be able to drive the car properly through these twists and turns?” or seeing a female doctor some mistake her to be a nurse. 

Anuradha Ghandy, a revolutionary, says, "By propagating women's nature as non-violent they are discouraging women from becoming fighters in the struggle for their own liberation and that of society."

Reasons to change and not adapt to sexism

As women our life is a battlefield where we have to fight different battles on a daily basis. During college days when I took the bus for travelling, I knew it was going to be a struggle. Sometimes when I was lucky I would just be stared at. When i was talking about it to a friend he said, “but why would you take a bus at this hour of the day when you know it's loaded.”

It's things like these that make your mind shut down completely. When they say “ don't be such an emotional fool,” “oh you must be on your periods” or “you are mature, be the bigger person.” These are just seeds for multiple mental health issues that affect our lives.

In general, women are twice as depressed as men.There is an intense amount of pressure placed on women when they encounter certain stereotypes in the workplace. They end up feeling helpless and frustrated, this at times leads to health issues. They remain isolated and this curbs their ability to work in a team as equals. Women have to do better to be equals, and this is tiring.

4 simple yet effective ways to deal with sexism

1. Support each other:  As opposed to the ‘boys' club’ we as women should create a productive and healthy environment for other women. Those who are at higher positions should lend a helping hand to others, to eliminate gender diversity at the top of any organisation.

2. Demand your rights:  Would you not love your job if you are a part of the social discussions? There are women who drink and men who don't so why does a woman have to stay back if after work discussions happen at bars. Be vociferous without the fear of being judged, it's better than staying back and resenting .

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of America, says, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception.”

3. Ask for help:  When I became a target for sexist remarks, I started going back into my cocoon. I rarely talked to anyone and started resenting my job. One day when I couldn't hold it in any longer, it all came gushing out of me in front of a colleague. I was surprised to see how understanding he was. And there were many like him. Shutting everyone out is not the answer. How will you know who wants to help if you never ask for it?

4. Speak up:  The most important point in fighting sexism is speaking about it. By keeping mum, we just aggravate our grievances, nothing else. If you are being called a ‘good girl’ for serving coffee, speak up. If your anger is misconstrued to your periods, speak up. If a touch or a glance makes you uncomfortable, speak up. 

Malala Yousafzai, an activist and Nobel Prize laureate says, “Women are strong. Women can do anything. Come out and struggle for your rights; nothing can happen without your voice. Do not wait for me to do something for your rights. It’s your world, and you can change it.”

Society has killed us, they have crammed us inside boxes so much so that we can't even see the sky. But there will come a day when all of us will realise our individual selves, not in association to the society that we live in, we will face the reality which exists in as individuals, when women will cease to exist as an object but a normal human being, when she will be handed a cup of tea after getting home from work, when her existence will be valued, when I will be able to tell my parking assistant that I can park my own car, maybe then a woman will be born again to see the sky and live with her head held high.

Share in comments if you have also faced sexism at the workplace and you felt that no one will understand. You  will be surprised that when you raise your voice there will be many to back you up.

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