The Breakthrough Voice 7th March, 2016

How we perpetuate everyday sexism at our workplace.

I work in what would be considered a very open and casual environment. You can often find colleagues passionately discussing relationships, marriage, feminism etc. Nothing is off limits as long as one is respectful. Often, we’ll have aggressive debates during the day, and grab a drink with the same person in the eve. Such is life at an advertising agency.

Despite the liberal culture, we’ve not been able to curb the instances of normalised day to day sexism faced by women employees at the hands of both men and women.

I happen to work for an employer who’s made certain that women in the organisation are treated fairly and with respect. We’re empowered and fiercely independent. I doubt we even think about gender discrimination at workplace that often.

Whether it is calling me sweety, or assuming I should be in charge of coffee, or asking if I’m married at a job interview, subtle sexism is alive and well. This is the kind of sexism that, at first, you may not even notice, and when you do, may seem harmless. Raging debates have been fought on whether these instances even qualify as sexism.

What we don’t realise is that these statements that are made “in jest”, are absolutely corrosive to women’s success in the workplace. It hinders the recognition of women’s contribution, and robs them of opportunities that are available more freely to the male employees.

I remember we once had a particularly difficult female client. She’d insist on the shortest possible timelines for the toughest jobs. She was a straight talking, accomplished woman at the helm of a multinational fnb corporate, and while all of us disliked her, some of us expressed it by calling her unflattering, derogatory names. I know that had she been a man, she’d have been disliked, but also admired. The man is a perfectionist, where she is fussy. He is a leader, where she is bossy. Meticulous, where she is frustrating.

And once this struck me like lightning, I started noticing moments of everyday sexism that I used to be blind to.

From “Try to have fewer women in the meeting. I don’t have all day”, to “She can’t focus because she’s unmarried and lonely”, they’re all comments made to raucous laughter, often by or around other women who don’t realise its damage.

As employees working towards creating a better existence, we owe it to ourselves to firstly, just recognize workplace sexism. Subtle sexism is tricky because most offenders think it’s harmless! So, educate them, and you’ll be surprised how many well-intentioned people will apologise and immediately stop the offensive behaviour.

In conclusion, I want to remind everyone that women have achieved immense success in all spheres of life. It’s time to add “Wiped out sexism from the face of the planet” to that list!

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