Why is it so Hard to Overcome Misogyny & Sexism in the Workplace?
For centuries, the pinnacle of success for women was to be a wife, a mother and a “nice lady”. Anything outside of those boundaries was a risky lifestyle choice. Most women couldn’t support themselves, and those who did make money were ridiculed for it. Either for leaving their children or for stealing jobs from men.
Not too long ago, people believed the female brain was incapable of refined opinions or serious and complex thought. Basically, men decided our thoughts were too overwhelmed with emotion to be taken seriously.
During the First World War, it became clear women were ready to take charge of their lives. Women served in the war, worked in factories and offices and raised families while their husbands were overseas.
In 1918, women’s suffrage groups succeeded in getting females (well, white females) the right to vote in Canadian federal elections. Women of minority races weren’t able to vote until 1948, and Aboriginal Canadians couldn’t vote until 1960. 😔
When psychoanalysts began diagnosing women, they covered many conditions with the blanket term neurosis; omitting the many circumstances of life that influence our mood and behaviour. This stigma continues today through the familiar phrase, “bitchz b cray“.
The feminist movement of the 1960s brought women’s rights into the spotlight and led to thousands of women entering the workforce. Thereafter, the opportunity for misconduct grew tenfold.
Until 1978, women were fired from their jobs for being pregnant. Courts only recognized sexual harassment in the workplace for the first time in 1977. Sexual harassment still wasn’t even given an official definition until 1980.
We’ve made important progress, but we have a long way to go.
Women across all industries and levels of seniority are still affected by misogyny and sexist behaviour at work.
There’s a double standard to being an asshole at work. Far too often we demonize women for the exact same qualities and behaviours we praise men for.
Think about how often you’ve heard “my boss is such a bitch”. Now, how often do you hear my boss is an “asshole” or “douche”?
Women make up only 24% of senior business roles globally, but you’ve probably heard a lot more about those “Bossy Bitches“.
Anger is a typical male response, but for women it’s seen as unnatural, uncontrollable and frankly not “feminine“. So female co-workers are labelled as “nasty”, “bitchy” or “bossy” while the men are “powerful”, “a hard-ass”, or at worst, “stressed”. 😬
Women don’t even have to be angry to be called angry. In fact, it is often our moments of great confidence that are misinterpreted as aggressive. Then, we are expected not to complain when we are discredited.
Accusations of being an “angry black woman” chased Michelle Obama for 8 years, despite her constant poise.
Meanwhile, we have Donald Trump as a constant reminder of the bar for male competence.
There are many other stigmas that aren’t caused by our attitude. For example, professional women are perceived as less competent once they become mothers – of course, this does not affect men when they have children.
Working women are also stigmatized by their female peers for leaving their children at home. In actuality, studies show that children with working mothers are better off.
If you’ve paid attention to the news lately, allegations of sexual misconduct in politics, Hollywood and journalism are exploding. Clearly, this is a massive issue that has gone unaddressed for too long.
In Canada, 43% of women report being sexually harassed in their workplace. Women are also more than twice as likely to experience unwanted sexual contact while at work.
These stats are based only on reported incidents. Experts and survivors say the pressure to be polite and professional is so ingrained that it stops many victims from speaking up about assault or harassment.
If an abuser is in a position of authority at the workplace, it makes it even more difficult to speak up. They fear it may jeopardize their career or that their abuser’s cover up story will be more seriously considered. Women are also thrust into the spotlight and forced to publicly re-live a traumatic experience.
There is a common belief that many women falsely report sexual assault, to get attention or defame someone. In actuality, a review of international cases found false reporting happens in only 2% to 8% of cases.
I was surprised to learn about the ways men and women are biased towards female coworkers. This unconscious bias happens outside of our control. Our automatic responses are influenced by culture and internal prejudices.
Other studies discovered that both men and women label angry female professionals as lower status than equivalent angry male professionals. Their findings were consistent regardless of their actual status. A female trainee and a female CEO were both given lower status if they expressed anger.
What’s even more problematic is that women’s emotional reactions were attributed to internal characteristics. Whereas men’s emotional reactions were attributed to external circumstances. “She’s out of control” but “he’s just having a rough day“.
Women have more power today than ever before. Get out there and use it!
Challenge gender inequality wherever you see it. Address the systemic barriers that perpetuate sexism and misogyny.
Don’t passively allow the women on your team to get screwed over. Don’t join in to impress the guys or be afraid of getting backlash for speaking up.
If we don’t hold others accountable for their actions, we allow abusers to defend and continue the same behaviour.
✋🏼 STOP ✋🏼 calling your female coworkers bitchy, bossy, nasty, mean, pms-y and overemotional. Don’t call them your sweetie, love, baby, etc.
👍🏼 DO 👍🏼 describe women as bold, assertive, determined, powerful, tenacious, etc. Call them your partner, peer, or boss.
Have you ever encountered sexism in the workplace? Share your advice or experience in the Facebook comments below.