This article was contributed by Pink Moods.
How are you feeling?
When it comes to the workplace, women of this day and age are becoming increasingly aware of the sexist structures still in place, as the popularity of feminism beings to regrow. After a period of rejecting the formal, academic image of second-wave feminism borne from the 1970s and 80s, feminism is now a proud badge of honour worn by the Internet’s most searched and hyped celebrities, from Beyonce to bloggers. Feminism has impacted mainstream culture harder than ever and now the women of this world are taking action in their day-to-day lives, starting with their jobs.
It’s easy to dismiss sexist remarks as a slip of the tongue, a light-hearted joke or inconsequential to your well-being at work, but sexism can still be aggressive and it still impacts on the rights and actions of female workers across the country. David Cameron’s famous dismissal of Angela Eagle several years ago with his questionable Michael Winner impersonation is proof that sexism can’t only be used as a way of persecuting the working classes – it’s happening everywhere in the same forms. We’re all using the same phrases and they evoke the same ideas about women which can potentially hold them back; that we’re overly emotional, not resilient enough to be criticised or weak in making decisions. Some women are still reporting going through much worse, and colleagues’ words and actions have become vulgar, inappropriate or abusive. 50% of women in the UK, according to Safeworkers, have reported sexual harassment and some cases have been as extreme as performing sexual acts for the bonus they have earned. The argument of journalists such as Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday Sexism, is that if people see highly-visible public figures seeming to condone sexist remarks and interactions, and refusing to apologise as Cameron did, the subconscious and socially-ingrained impulse to target people for their gender will never fade. Bates and others are calling for a move away from careless use of language in perpetuating sexism. By targeting people’s actions without referring to gender, the argument is that eventually our thoughts will follow suit, and all stereotypes we hold for genders will cease to impact our actions. Until this happens on a large enough scale, the fear is that sexism will remain endemic in the working environment.
Sexism still exists and operates in more systematic and subtle ways. The wage gap between men and women has gained traction amongst the press in recent years, with complaints regarding the opportunities afforded to women in terms of earning because of the working world’s sexist culture. In a world where the Sex Discrimination Act exists, women still feel trapped by descriptive bias (women are all seen as one type: empathetic, interpersonal, team-player etc.), assumptions that they only work in supportive roles, disparaging views of maternity leave and negative consequences from hyper-masculinity. In the UK, there is still a massive gender disproportion in the boardrooms of the top 100 companies compared to other European countries. All of this means that a man is more likely to earn nearly 17% more than a woman for a similar job in the UK. Whilst the wage rates may be the same in most cases (but surprisingly not all, especially in the private sector), the earnings are still disproportionate. Large portions of women still report that they are last to be offered extra hours, pay rises or bonus opportunities, that they are more likely to start on lower pay brackets because of maternity concerns and doubts over job suitability, and that they have faced significantly more failures at interview than their male counterparts. Whilst there are plenty of successful women who have greatly benefitted from improved women’s rights in the workplace since the 1990s, there is still a system in place that makes it slightly harder for a woman to work her way to the top, and levelling the playing field is proving difficult to solve.
Of course, gender inequality is never black or white, except in some cases. A more modern development in feminist theory is the idea of intersectionality, that inequalities and lack of social privileges are more pronounced when they are shown to combine. The labour market is particularly stratified by race, where over the past four decades black people are five times more likely to face unemployment than their white and Hispanic counterparts, yet their participation rates in work remain higher than all other races across the same time span. The race that works the most also faces unemployment the most – the statistics aren’t compatible. The bias against historically less privileged sections of society goes beyond race too. Jack Monroe, a homosexual single mother and chef who found success in writing about her struggles with poverty, was recently criticised by journalist Sarah Vine for her remarks about David Cameron’s use of pity for his bereavement in furthering his campaigns, however the criticism did not centre on her opinions, but on how being a lesbian and poor made her potentially unfit to be a mother and that her career is directly related to sympathy for her plight rather than hard work in education and the workplace. This case seemed to show how willing we are to condemn the working rights of others based on discrimination and prejudice rather than fair judgement, as though Monroe’s success was undeserved because of who she is rather than how well she writes.
Gender inequality isn’t just an issue for women to try and navigate. Recalling Emma Watson’s speech for the UN, launching the project He For She, the idea that men are complicit in bringing about gender equality and the fact it can benefit them positively has become an important part of feminist concerns. There are still reports of men struggling with lack of acceptance in roles stereotypically seen as for women and emotional and mental issues triggered by the demand for of male-dominated competition. 40% of men have even reported suffering from sexual harassment which has greatly impacted their work. This is just as wrong. Research has shown how gender-balanced workforces help create more successful businesses, as the diversity encourages better cooperation and increases initiative and creativity amongst workers.
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The determination to rid of gender inequality once and for all is as strong as ever, as we continue to admit to and expose instances of sexism at the workplace. With our increasing understanding of business and employment structures and ability to voice and discuss inequalities through the internet, we have shown further work is needed to make the workplace totally fair for everyone, man or woman, and continued work will see us succeed in achieving this.
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This article was contributed by Pink Moods.